Notes from an Oregon Optimist: 5 Takeaways from Mom Congress 2012
Happy Saturday….I’m still unwinding from four action-packed days in DC for Mom Congress 2012. What a week! It would be impossible to sum up this experience in a blog post — or several — but I’ll try to highlight a few of the (many…) takeaways I had after a week spent with some incredible Delegates from 2010 and 2011, our 2012 Delegate class, our Advisory Board, and our education partners.
During the conference, now in its 3rd year, we tackled issues ranging from early education resources to school nutrition to common core standards to education funding to parent-teacher engagement and much much more.
Because “5″ is a big number in our house these days — my daughters recently graduated from the big “4 and three quarters” recently — and because it’s Cinqo de Mayo, too…. here are 5 initial takeaways from my week. You can also check out the official “Highlights of Mom Congress”, too; it has more perspectives and links to blog posts from many of the other Delegates. (That photo to the right is our PacNW crew!)
#1: Early Is (Still) Everything.
As a Preschool parent, early education has been a key focus of my efforts over the past year. Last year at Mom Congress, we learned that nearly 2/3 of children living in poverty have no books at home, and enter school without the basic language skills they need to learn to read.
This year, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel to present on Books Make it Better, where we also heard from Kim Davenport, SVP of Jumpstart. She shared that 50% of low-income children start school up to 2 years behind their peers. We also heard from Mark Shriver, of Save the Children, who summed it up well when he said, “Because children don’t vote, mobilize in PACs, and aren’t in the media, many are not getting heard.” He also told some great family stories — and as you can imagine, he has some incredible ones. One that stood out for me was that, when his father Founded the National Headstart program in 1965, it was supposed to be an 8 week summer program — and today serves 1 million kids each day (only 1/2 of those who qualify).
One of the big highlights of the week for me was finally getting to meet, and learn from. Earl Martin Phelan, CEO of Reach Out and Read. I had the privilege of interviewing last Fall. He shared both his personal experiences as a young child growing up in the Foster Care system, highlights from Reach Out and Read. You can read more about ways to get involved — and my personal passion for this organization, in our recent post, “Let’s Reach Out; 5 ways to support early literacy.“.
Phelan also shared with us his work with the Summer Advantage Program, which supports thousands of low-income elementary and middle schoolers with research-based learning programs. And, we had several new Delegates step up to join our growing Books Make it Better movement for next Fall, too! (In case you’re new to the blog, here’s our recent KATU news segment on our local early literacy efforts ,which was inspired by Mom Congress 2011.)
#2 Parent & Teacher Engagement Is Key.
As the sister, cousin, and close friend of many incredible educators, I feel lucky to have close communication with our teachers, today. I was intrigued by the findings of the Parent/Teacher Communication Study, a recent survey by Parenting Magazine and the National Education Association. As Lily Eskelson shared, the study explores the roadblocks to effective parent-teacher communication.
One of the many “disconnects” we learned is that 68% of teachers have difficulty in dealing with parents, but 63% of parents report having no difficulty in dealing with parents. And, More than one-quarter of parents cite their biggest challenge as being teachers’ perceived lack of understanding for their concerns, while one in three teachers cited parents’ lack of understanding of their child’s issues as their biggest challenge.
On a hopeful note, though, we learned about the National Family Engagement Alliance, which launched at Mom Congress by Byron Garrett, a leading planner of NBC News’ Education Nation and former CEO of the National PTA. You can like them on Facebook & follow them @EngageFamilies on Twitter. I’m so proud of my friend Myrdin Thompson, 2010 Kentucky Delegate & 2011/2012 Mentor; her new role as Regional Director! I’m looking forward to learning more about them soon.
I feel fortunate to have — at least for now — a close relationship with our preschool teachers. I know, though, that this won’t last forever. This session was an eye-opener to me and one I’ll be thinking more about in the coming months as my girls prepare for their Kindergarten year.
3. Healthier Kids (I hope) Are On the Horizon…
The panel, “Let’s Move: Educating Our Children To Lead Healthier Lives” addressed all aspects of raising healthier students. We started off with insights from Sam Kass, White House chef and Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives. He who shared that, for the first time in 15 years, resources are finally being increased for school nutrition programs. After meeting Sarah Wu, the Chicago teacher who (secretly) wrote “Fed Up With Lunch” last year, I’d say It’s about time…
We also discussed the importance of something simple — but seriously missing — from many kids’ lives: playgrounds. Darrell Hammond, CEO of Kaboom, shared that only 1 in 5 kids in the U.S. (that’s 15 million kids) don’t have access to a safe nearby park. He also introduced Ourdreamplayground.org, a new resource to enable families build, donate, or volunteer to support more safe playgrounds in their community.
As Ana Connery noted, ”playgrounds can be our kids first teaching ground — learning how to take turns, overcome fears, negotiate with others.” I’ve seen this firsthand in our school’s Games At Recess Parents Program, inspired by the work of Playworks, who I met at Mom Congress 2011. (As an aside, Playworks Portland is actively recruiting volunteers; learn more about them here. I think the work they do is incredible!)
I also loved meeting Rachel Gutter, Director for the The Center for Green Schools who shared with us programs underway to drive the transformation of schools into more sustainable places to live, work, learn and play. Their Green Apple Day of Service program on Sept 29 where advocates from around the world— from students to teachers to officials — will come together to support more sustainable schools. You can get started before then with some great everyday activity ideas here, and setup a student group anytime.
One big area of concern for me — which we didn’t really have the chance to dive into in great detail —are the rising number of kids who come to school hungry each day. Here in Portland, I’m proud to work with and support The Portland Backpack Program; I’ll be blogging more on this topic soon.
For more on this topic — and lots of to-do’s— read “Class Dismissed: 10 Ways To Get Kids Moving At School And At Home“, a blog post from Mom Congress 2011.
#4 Use Stories to Sell Your Message
#5: Above All, Mom Congress Delegates Are Incredible!
When I applied to represent Oregon in 2011 for Mom Congress, I assumed I might learn a few things that would help me navigate the education landscape for my family, and perhaps discover a few community organizations to connect with in my desire to learn more, and do more, in my new hometown.
I had no idea that I’d meet some of the most incredible moms — who are as diverse as the states and cities we come from — who are mentors, colleagues, and friends. We each define “advocacy” and “reform” in different ways, and the challenges we’re facing as parents and community members run the gamut. But there’s no question we are united because we care about schools, and kids, and because we’re not willing to settle when it comes to kids and families in our communities.
On our final day in DC, I had the honor of attending Congressional meetings led by Melissa Bilash, 2010 Delegate and 2011/2012 Mentor, Steminist, and advocate for Gifted and Special Needs children. (I interviewed her last year here). I’ll be posting more on this soon.
I also joined Oregon’s awesome new delegate, Betsy Tam Salter, at a meeting with Senator Ron Wyden‘s staffer, where we discussed various local issues ranging from education funding to supporting Homeless students and those in Foster Care, to early education resources. What an incredible experience, thank you Betsy!
And so..as I I officially “pass the baton” to Betsy, our new Oregon Delegate, I want to thank the Parenting Magazine Team and our Sponsors for putting together another incredible program, and for your commitment to bringing moms, education advocacy leaders, and businesses who are committed to the fight for better schools.
Betsy will be sharing her thoughts on the experience in an upcoming post. Can’t wait to hear what she has to say……