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U46 efforts to reach African-American community

Updated: December 28, 2012 6:13AM

If parents in Community Unit School District 300 got the idea for the African-American Parent Advisory Committee from School District U46, the Elgin district got the idea from its superintendent, Jose Torres.

“It’s a program that really was brought to us by our superintendent,” said U46 Parent and Community Outreach Coordinator Karla Guzman.

“I guess it needs to be supported from the top down. I think that helps with the credibility of the program, too.”

That’s one word of advice Guzman had for the District 300 council as U46’s African-American Parent Leadership Institute begins its second year.

While the institute was started by the district for its parents, it was something parents had asked for from the district. They had heard great things about the Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute started the year before, she said.

Nine parents signed up for the first two-year cohort of AAPLI last school year, and the district could accept up to 25 into the second this year, Guzman said.

The African-American and Hispanic leadership institutes now meet together one Saturday a month, splitting “whenever we want to talk to them about specific issues to the African-American and Hispanic communities,” she said. For instance, the coordinator said, “both groups tend to advocate for their communities differently.”

The first year of the institute generally is “U46 101,” she said, while year two is information about how parents can become leaders in the district. But parents “tell us exactly what topics they want,” she said, and last year, AAPLI members mostly were interested in learning more about the district’s special education and early childhood programs.

The institute also pushed the district’s two-way dual language program, which puts students whose first language is Spanish into a classroom with students whose first language is English to learn both languages simultaneously. Research has shown children who are black perform better in a dual language classroom than their peers in a regular classroom, she said.

The state’s second-largest district had started HPLI in the 2010-11 school year because Hispanics had outnumbered white and black students combined since 2007. But someone wouldn’t know it if they looked at the volunteers on the U46 Board of Education, the Citizens Advisory Council or even individual school parent-teacher organizations, the district pointed out at the time.

U46 also held an African-American Family Education Summit in 2010 at Second Baptist Church in Elgin to acknowledge the sizeable achievement gap between white and black students in the district. That summit also was a call for the community to get involved and to discuss ways everyone can work together to close the gap, it said at the time.

“Everything has been very positive,” Guzman said. “I really have not heard any complaints. The complaints we usually hear from the groups are, ‘We want more information. We want more time.’ ”

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