For many Baltimore residents, especially parents, learning how to effectively engage their neighborhood schools is an important part of creating overall change, both in terms of children’s education and neighborhood health. Jennifer DiFrancesco and Debra Mathews, two parents of children in Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School, will lead the workshop Transforming Your School: A Parent’s Perspective at this year’s Neighborhood Institute on March 24.
Here, Jennifer and Debra explain how they became organizers who understand the link between neighborhoods and schools.
Tell us about your background.
Jennifer: I don’t have any certificates on my office wall pertaining to school organizing. I am, however, the mother of two girls (1st grade and Pre-K) with my oldest attending Margaret Brent since Pre-K. For the past three years, I’ve been involved with School and Family Council at two city schools (Margaret Brent and Guilford Elementary/Middle), rallied in Annapolis, and actively participate on the PTO. I definitely consider myself a grassroots organizer with no training, but a desire to see our neighborhood schools be as diverse and inclusive as our Charles Village neighborhood.
Debra: I am the mother of a Pre-K student at Margaret Brent Elementary Middle School in Charles Village. All of the school organizing experience I’ve had has been within that context–advocating for a better school for my child and the other children in my neighborhood.
As you know, GHCC’s Neighborhood Institute is about helping residents learn ways to build and strengthen their own neighborhoods. How will your workshop help them to accomplish that?
Jennifer: Good neighborhoods have good and accessible schools. We are lucky that Charles Village has two good schools with lots of potential (Margaret Brent and Barclay). Good school organizing helps the school share with the community its assets. It also gives the neighborhood easy and accessible ways for sharing of resources (time, talent, resources).
Debra: In order for a neighborhood to be truly healthy, it needs a range of features and services, and a good public school is one of those services. A healthy neighborhood school both benefits from and helps build a healthy neighborhood.
Why did you choose to participate as a workshop leader in this year’s Neighborhood Institute?
Jennifer: I want individuals in our community and surrounding communities to see and learn what we are doing in our neighborhood. My hope is that when people see how our small steps have affected real change in how our schools are viewed, others might begin taking their own small steps. Children don’t grow up in a bubble. Our children are most definitely shaped by their neighborhood. And so far, I’ve learned that it truly does take a diverse Village to raise a healthy, happy child.
Debra: I want people to know about the work that we are doing in our neighborhood school, to learn from our experience, if possible, and to be motivated to advocate for change in their own neighborhood school. It can feel like a very big, very daunting task, and it is in many ways, but it is also one of the very best ways we can serve our children and our communities.
What are you hoping that your workshop participants will take away with them?
Jennifer: New ideas and the motivation to take just one small step to making their neighborhood a strong one.
Debra: Motivation and contacts, and hopefully, some useful information.