Four years in, School Smarts is making a difference
A family-engagement movement is taking place in Los Angeles County, and parents like Maggie Uceda are proud to be a part of it.
As a volunteer at Pomona’s San Antonio Elementary School, Uceda already was familiar with the school community. But when she heard about California State PTA’s School Smarts Parent Engagement Program from her principal, it definitely got her attention.
“I first heard about School Smarts when the principal brought the program to San Antonio,” she said. “It was a new program, and we were the first ones in the district to try it. She asked me to participate in the class and bring my friends, so we took the very first School Smarts class. From there, it took off!”
With the School Smarts academy, Uceda enjoyed learning more about how to advocate for her children – as well as all children in her school community.
“Our grandparents always taught us values when we were young,” she said. “Now, as a mom, this is something that is important to me. I know that it is my turn to teach my children these values because School Smarts taught us that parents are the first teachers of our children.”
But learning about advocacy and engagement and becoming more involved as a parent wasn’t enough for Uceda: She was so inspired by her experience that she trained to become a School Smarts facilitator. In that new role, she finds personal reward in motivating other parents and family members to reach goals big and small, and to have a true voice in their children’s school and the surrounding community.
“For me, being a successful parent is being involved with my children’s school.”
Uceda is just one of the growing number of dedicated Pomona Unified School District School Smarts graduates. Since its beginning four years ago as one of the first School Smarts programs in the state, School Smarts has been embraced at all levels of the district to not just engage, but to empower families.
While the district had used an introductory parent-engagement program for some time, Diana Marmolejo-Reymundo felt something was missing. As district coordinator of pupil, community and employee relations, Marmolejo-Reymundo and others believed more in-depth, meaningful training and engagement was needed to support Pomona students and the diverse family community. The challenge was finding the tools for success.
“The programs we have used in the past were missing a key element – the next step!” she said. “School Smarts offered a solution by building the capacity of parents by empowering, training and supporting them to take the lead with a solid program and curriculum that focuses on how to help parents help their children.”
“It’s about being partners in education,” added PUSD Superintendent Richard Martinez. “We wanted to create an atmosphere and environment supportive to schools and parents. It’s so much more than just helping out in the classroom.”
So when district and parent representatives heard about School Smarts, excitement followed.
Lynn Miyamoto was serving as First District PTA president when California State PTA launched School Smarts as its premier parent-engagement program. She had heard about the new program at a California State PTA meeting, where she and other participants learned that the search was on for the first academy locations. Miyamoto and other PTA volunteers like Pomona Council PTA President Steve Richmond brought the idea to the school district, which became interested and worked to incorporate the engagement program.
“We started to see that the district and community really embraced School Smarts,” said Miyamoto, who currently serves at California State PTA’s School Smarts chair. “Now we’re doing train-the-trainers and graduates like Maggie are becoming facilitators. We’ve seen it grow by leaps and bounds!”
Marmolejo-Reymundo noted the pure team-effort success of the program, which is supported by the board of education, superintendent, district staff, principals, teachers, school staff, PTA Council, First District PTA, school-site councils, parents, students and community members. She offered advice for other districts seeking to do the same.
“Build on success, reflect constantly, hear and value the voices of all including the critical ones, continue learning and, above all, remember that parents are valued partners,” she said. “Allow the strength of School Smarts to percolate and you will see how it will permeate into the hearts of others.”
‘EXACTLY WHAT WE HOPED FOR’
Martinez attends School Smarts graduations and events, where he sees family engagement and empowerment in person.
“The kids who come to their parents’ graduations are so excited – you see it in their faces!” he said. “There’s a ripple effect: Our kids are learning something that they must accomplish because their parents did it, too. The effect on children and families is in the classroom and beyond.”
“I was blown away – we started to see that the district really embraced it,” said Miyamoto. “Before, the schools had been struggling, but now parents and families were engaged. That’s exactly what we hoped for.
“Welcome parents and empower them to be engaged with their schools and their kids: Pomona Unified School District and School Smarts are doing it!”
SCHOOL SMARTS IN POMONA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT: BY THE NUMBERS
- PUSD program start date: 2012
- First PUSD School Smarts program: San Antonio Elementary School in Pomona
- Current number of academies and programs: 15 academies at 9 schools
- Current number of district facilitators: 7
- Graduates to date: 340
- Languages: School Smarts offered in all 6 available School Smarts curriculum languages in PUSD.