Helping Close Minority Student Achievement Gap

Helping Close Minority Student Achievement Gap

Despite the focus in recent years on closing the gap in minority student achievement, little progress has been made. But local parents and educators hope to change things — and soon.

Toward that end, a huge parent-empowerment conference will be held Saturday, Feb. 23, at Chantilly High from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. It's sponsored by the Parent Minority Advisory Committee (PMAC) of Bull Run Elementary's PTA and the Chantilly Pyramid Minority Student Achievement Committee (CPMSAC).

"This conference expects to attract parents and guardians who want to equip themselves to better aid their children's academic achievement," said Benny James, Bull Run PMAC co-chair, along with his wife Pamela. "These parents will receive practical advice and instruction on how they can interact with teachers, administrators, community resources and the children, themselves."

The 2002 Fairfax County School Board Report Card on Minority Student Achievement shows that a chasm still persists and has improved little in the four-year period covered by the report. Said Benny James: "The outlook based on this report is a cause for great concern and purposeful action from all members of the Fairfax County community — especially those most adversely affected."

Still, he said, the situation is far from hopeless and, indeed, can be turned around with hard work and parental involvement — an element crucial in improving children's scholastic performance. And this attitude of self-help is the catalyst for the conference.

There'll be information sessions and focused workshops designed to help parents understand and manage specific challenges vital to their children's success. A strong slate of speakers — consisting of administrators, school counselors, principals, teachers and parents — hopes to provide the spark to get things moving in the right direction.

Free childcare is provided, plus a continental breakfast and box lunch. The breakfast and workshop assignments will begin at 7:30 a.m.

To register, call 703-227-1402 and leave a message with the names of conference participants, number of children ages 3-10 requiring childcare and telephone-contact information. Or e-mail this information to On-site registration will also be available. For more information, call Benny James at 703-742-2794.

CPMSAC president Johnny Nelson, Benny James, Bull Run principal Thom Clement and Chantilly High principal Tammy Turner will greet the audience. Janice McRae, an elementary-school guidance counselor, will give the keynote address.

Afterward, parents will learn about current minority student achievement in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), and then Pamela James will moderate a parents' panel discussion — along with Malikah Reed, Mark Richardson and CPMSAC co-founder Shirley Nelson — on the challenges and successes in helping children achieve in school.

Next will come a variety of workshops — some also conducted in Spanish. For example, Rocky Run Middle principal Danny Meier, Bull Run PTA president Michele Urie and others will lead a workshop on communication and advocacy. Gloria Poinciano, with FCPS Family Learning and Involvement, will facilitate the Spanish version.

Other workshop topics are: Coaching Your Child to Higher Performance, Connecting to Support Resources, Early Childhood/School Readiness and Gifted and Talented Programs. Workshop leaders include Johnny Nelson, Cluster VII director Carma Norman and Ralph Cooper of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs.

"Planning for this conference has been a truly collaborative effort between the volunteers of Bull Run PTA and CPMSAC," said Nelson. "The scale of this undertaking required the resources of both organizations to make it happen."

Pamela James said the conference is about outreach. "[It's] available to parents who find it difficult to participate for a number of reasons, including conflicting schedules, lack of childcare and tight finances," she explained. "It's all about helping parents understand how the system works and how to make the system work for them — and also how to form relationships with support groups for encouragement and help in specific skill areas."

Benny James said the event organizers appreciate all the speakers volunteering their time to participate in the conference, as well as the hard work of all the committee members to bring it to fruition. "We hope parents will take the time to attend," he said. "We think they'll be delighted with the expert advice they'll receive from the professional counselors and administrators, as well as from other parents sharing experiences with which they'll readily identify."