How Do We Harness the Collective Power of a Community?

 See something, say something but then do something!

See something, say something but then do something!

It’s hard to move on from the events last week in Parkland, Florida where seventeen innocent lives were taken in yet another school shooting. It is even harder to understand how this happened.  In retrospect, people say there were concerns, they were warning signs.  Things were reported but nothing was ever done.  Of course the bigger issue is gun control, but since that isn’t a fight likely to be won anytime soon I can’t help but wonder how else might we come together to create a movement—a movement not just to end gun violence in our schools but a movement where parents and students voices are heard about changes that need to be made.  I am so proud of the students in Parkland who are speaking up and I hope more and more will follow suit.

Like many of us in schools, I straddle the work of working as an educator and being a parent of students in school. Last week, I received an email from our elementary school principal that was meant to reassure parents about the safety of our school.  He outlined the steps being taken in Los Angeles Unified School District and asked us to work together as a community with the “See something, Say something” campaign. While I am hopeful this will make a difference community-wide, I am also concerned by the complete hypocrisy of this campaign. I fear it is a campaign that makes for great media sound bites, yet translates into little or no action on behalf of our students.  It got me thinking about the partnerships between parents and schools and why so many parents are frustrated after getting involved, trying to make change without achieving results.

Let’s take the “See something, Say something” campaign as an example.  Here LAUSD is actively encouraging parents to speak up when they see something amiss at their campus, yet below are just two examples of recent times parents at our campus alone have spoken up repeatedly with NO follow-up action on behalf of anyone at LAUSD:

  • Beyond the Bell: Our school runs an after school program for students in grades 2-5. Students are free to play on the yard after school and parents are promised a safe and supervised after school experience for their students.  Yet, repeatedly parents have complained that “Beyond the Bell” is unsafe.  The school yard gate is unlocked and unsupervised, anyone is free to come and go as they please. The one paid supervisor sits on the far side of the playground where there is shade and pays little to no attention to any adults that walk on campus, let alone the students in their care.

  • School Wide PE Program: Our school fundraises to employ an additional PE coach to provide our students with the required 110 minutes of weekly PE.  Over the years, our community has expressed concerns regarding the inappropriateness of our coach's comments to kids (comments made to girls, “If you want to win, make sure to pick boys on your team.” or comments made to boys, “Don’t run like a girl.”) to the inappropriateness of the PE Curriculum (kindergarten students doing push-ups on the blacktop for PE) yet there is little to no improvement.  In fact, recently parents spoke up, followed all of the appropriate channels speaking with our principal and Governing Council parent representatives only to have the teachers at Governing Council essentially squash any concerns with an enthusiastic, “Our PE program is great” commentary.  Nothing has ever been investigated, nor will it.

While the ineffectiveness of our PE program and the safety of Beyond the Bell, are concerns in our parent community, it has left me more concerned by the process available to parents to raise concerns at their public schools. What options do parents have available to them when their concerns are ignored?

Are parent concerns of value? If so, why are so many of the concerns ignored?  When raised concerns are ignored, it creates a culture of apathy towards school.  I have met parents with concerns who have their youngest student going through elementary tell me, “We tried to effect change the first time through and now we are just trying to get by, we only have x number of years left.”   Just today I received an email from a very involved parent disheartened that the school is not willing to meet the needs of her advanced student, “I have done everything in my power to effect change.  I will probably just write a letter with a few parent signatures and ask for it to be read at Governing Council.  Then I think that’s likely the end of the road for me.  I just don’t have the bandwidth to take this on as a project… and question the benefits of doing so, anyway.”  

I consider myself fortunate to live in a community where parents have the time and resources to push for change and yet even in these communities parents are being silenced.  What about communities who do not have these resources?  Perhaps parents everywhere end up in the same place, unable to push for changes desired for students.

If schools are going to start promoting “See something, Say something”  campaigns, than schools have to be prepared to show that it matters when parents do speak up. Parents have concerns. Parents  are speaking up and in many cases are being ignored. Over and over again.  Schools can not ignore parent concerns daily, and then expect parents to believe they would honor their concerns in regards to a school shooting. The inaction is contributing to a culture of apathy among parents and is protecting mediocrity in our schools.

If we believe parents should, “See Something, Say Something” what should they expect when they do speak up? How will schools make sure voices of students and parents are heard?

There is power in a collective conversation where our children, parents, teachers and leaders all come together to voice concerns, listen to each other and do something to create the change we all want. Let’s start the conversation. “See Something, Say Something” is a start but then we have to “Do Something.”