By Rochelle Quarles
Rochelle Quarles is a mother of three elementary school children who attend Boston public schools. She is actively involved in her children's education and serves as Vice President of the Boston Parent Advisory Council in Roxbury. This interview was conducted by Basic Black's Donnette Madrey, who spoke with Ms. Quarles at a recent school fair in Boston.
Q: What are some of your top concerns for your children in Boston public schools?
Safety is one of my main concerns. When you put so many children on the bus, from kindergarten to the fifth grade, it gets to be a problem. A particular incident happened recently: Two of my kids, my second grader and my kindergartner, witnessed some fifth graders harassing younger kids on the bus. I got together with some parents and we asked the principal to hire a bus monitor. It was a long fight, but eventuallythree months laterwe got our monitor.
So many kids have gotten hurt on the bus. My biggest tip is for parents to work together and to get to know your bus driver. Find out his name, what depot he comes from, and who his supervisor is. Build a relationship with him so that when something happens on that bus, he'll bring it to the attention of the principal. The driver should write up an incident report and give it to the principal. If the principal gets four or five reports involving the same student, or even just one report on something dangerous, then that kid should be removed from the bus. If it concerns a group of kids, then a monitor should be put on the bus. You have to work together with the driver, the principal, and other parents because they're all our kids, we're all looking out for them. That's why I think it's important for a parent to be at the school, working in a paid position, to watch over things like kids getting on and off the bus.
Q: What do you say to parents who don't get involved in their children's education?
As a parent organizer working in the high school, I can say that parent involvement there is really minimal. I notice a lot of parents don't even see their kids because they have to work two jobs. So their main concern is housing. Many parents have inadequate housing. A lot of parents have low paying jobs. A lot of parents don't speak very good English. So they have a lot of walls blocking them. It's not that they don't want to be involved, but rather that they don't know how to be involved.
But parent involvement doesn't only mean being in the school. You can be an involved parent outside of the school. You can make phone calls to help the school, you can write letters, you can do other things. So when someone tells me that a parent doesn't want to be involved, the first thing I would say is, What did you do to get that parent involved? Did you just call them up and ask them to attend something during the day that they probably couldn't attend because they work? Did you ask that parent for other ways they could help the school? Those are the questions I would ask.
Q: What's working for you as an advocate for your kids?
Education! The more I learn about Boston public schools, the more confidence I have in the system. I have three little ones in elementary school. I think the more you learn, the more you find out what's going on, the more involved you get in your kid's school, the better. Get on the parent council, get on the school site council, find out how and where the money is being spent. Parents assert their rights by getting on these councils.
Q: And what is your part?
As a parent, I need to make sure that my child has a comfortable workspace for doing homework. I need to teach my child time management, because that's an important life skill. I need to teach my child conflict resolution, because if they know how to resolve problems at home, then they can resolve them at school. There's less of a chance of developing behavioral problems, less of a chance of getting labeled ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and getting put on medication.
Q: As a parent, what do you need from a teacher?
Number one, I want that teacher to want my child to excel in everything that's being taught. Number two, I want that teacher to work with me so that I know my child's strengths and weaknesses, so that I can help my child excel.