Everyone in the field of education always talks about the need for more parent involvement in schools. SWOP is doing something about this with the Parent Mentor Program. Through this effort, SWOP recruits parents, mostly mothers, but there are some fathers, to work in classrooms in their children’s schools. The Parent Mentors work in a classroom (but not their own child’s room) for two hours a day, four days a week. On Friday, the fifth day, they spend time in training; learning skills from helping students improve their academic performance to tools for community organizing.
The Parent Mentors spend their time in the classroom working with individual children or small groups of students who are at risk of falling behind in their studies. Parent Mentor participation in the classroom allows teachers to provide guidance to the whole class, while ensuring that these students with more needs, don’t fall behind.
For the first half of this school year, SWOP has 138 parents working in 12 schools. Starting in January that number will go up by three more schools and approximately 20 more parents. While the program requires that parents put in 10 hours per week at the school, many go way beyond that volunteering more time in the classroom and participating in other school activities. For their work, parents receive a $500 stipend each semester after they work 100 hours in the classroom. In addition to their work in schools, participants in SWOP’s Parent Mentor Program are very active in immigration reform, community safety, and affordable housing campaigns in Chicago Southwest.
The Parent Mentor Program is funded by a grant from the State of Illinois. SWOP administers this grant for the state supporting Parent Mentor programs with 14 other organizations at 72 schools working with over 15,000 students daily.
The program is evaluated state-wide every year by professors from DePaul and Loyola Universities. So far the evaluators have seen consistent increases in the impact the program is having on the parents’ lives and the classrooms they work in.
A great example of a successful Parent Mentor is Estela Avalos. She works at Talman Elementary School in a 4th grade classroom helping students with math. Estela has been active in SWOP’s Get out the Vote and Police Accountability campaign in addition to her work as a Parent Mentor.
SWOP is hoping the program will be expanded next year so that more parents like Estela can participate in their child’s school.