Look at it this way 30 seconds to improve students’ lives
Could you advocate for children in 30 seconds or less?
That’s essentially what I’ve asked members of this year’s class of the Parent Leadership Training Institute to do. I’m here to address “The Power of the Media and How to Use It,” which I’ve done several times since the program started in Stamford in 1996.
The free program pairs nine weeks on parent leadership with nine weeks on civics (I’ll support any program that champions civics). Each parent has a project identifying a need and proposes a solution. I challenge them to make an elevator pitch.
This elevator won’t reach many floors before they get cut off, as facilitators behind me set the timer for 30 seconds.
The conversation in the room is a reminder of the richness of the community (participants range from Westchester County to Norwalk). The accents are musical, a symphony rather than a single guitar. I ask the blunt question about their origins. A few are Stamford natives. Others are from Peru, India, Venezuela, Colombia, the Netherlands, Honduras, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and Pakistan.
Many speak rapidly to optimize time. Others confidently get their point across in seconds. Program members Prasad and Sumi participate via computer, a child’s demands in the background serving as a reminder of the stakes. A few express frustrations when their bell rings. I want to hear more every time.
Springdale parent Robyn seizes the invitation to start.
“I have a three-pronged approach to make kindergarten teachers aware of biases among children ...”
Sandra, a Stamford native, takes the cue: “I want to bring mindfulness and meditation to the Stamford Public School system. To teach children how to respond rather than to react. To understand their emotions in a healthy way. ...”
Michael, who hails from Honduras, has the composure to invite me to “imagine the following scenario.”
“You walk into a classroom and most of the kids look the same. This is not a private school. This is not the 1960s. This is an AP class at Westhill High School in Stamford, Connecticut, where 40 percent of the kids are Latino and more than that are on free and reduced lunch ...”
Melanie identifies the need to decode IEP (Individualized Education Program) reports for parents who are not native English speakers.
Jen, who has two children on the autism spectrum, also suggests enhancements for special needs families. Many school functions are “overstimulating and noisy and unpredictable,” which adds to feelings of isolation. Jen thinks strategically, reasoning that fewer outplacements would save money in the education budget.
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Reina has ideas about using schools as a catalyst to reduce solid waste. Zareen puts a headline on her project that makes the point in four words (“No need for speed”) that Hart School in Stamford lacks speed bumps. Thurston is launching a podcast “to combat parental disengagement.” Val embraces the retro concept that children should “drop the phone and read” a book. Silvia sounds the alarm on kids vaping as young as 8. Rene, an artist from Norwalk by way of Guatemala, has ideas about giving students more exposure to the arts.
They learn quickly too. Just minutes after I translate the rules of “off the record,” Rebecca outlines plans for a type of cafe that is common in Europe, where parents can have adult conversations. She has a location in mind, but grins slyly as she utters “that’s off the record.”
Among the breadth of ideas, a pattern emerges. Just days before World Autism Awareness Day (which is Tuesday), Melanie and Jen are joined by other parents issuing a clarion call.
Tanuja wants to introduce activities in public places for children with special needs. Tara pitches adding graphics to school walls as outlets for emotional timeouts. Christi would introduce symbol language content in libraries for non-verbal students.
In this room everyone talks about inclusion. About empathy. About healing.
You can learn a lot in 30 seconds. These are ideas that would benefit any community.
There’s more. So much more. But I’ve run out of time.
John Breunig is editorial page editor of The Advocate and Greenwich Time. Jbreunig@scni.com; 203-964-2281; twitter.com/johnbreunig.