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How a self-help group of parents helped kids beat academic achievement gap

Behind every successful student there is most often a supportive parent.

How a self-help group of parents helped kids beat academic achievement gap

That young graduate with a new high school diploma in hand this month tends to get all the credit for his or her success. Yet behind every successful student there is most often a supportive parent just as deserving of congratulations.

Take the fascinating story out of The Washington Post about Club 2012, a disciplined, supportive self-help group started by African-American parents for their 18 children to help them beat the racial academic achievement gap. 

It’s a story too good not to be shared with MinnPost readers. Even in the Twin Cities where many programs exist to set kids along a college-bound path, this is a success story begging to be told.

When their kids were in middle school these parents living in the greater Washington, D.C. area, were alarmed to see their children’s interest in school waning and grades sliding. The students were being passed over for advanced math and honors classes and some were starting to believe stereotypes they couldn’t make it academically, they say.

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Parents rebelled. They banded together to set high academic expectations for their kids, organizing homework clubs, monitoring grades, partnering with school personnel. They involved their kids in community-service activities and took them on college visits.  

When they graduated this June these students boasted: “100 percent graduation rate, 92 percent enrollment in Advanced Placement classes, a cumulative 3.7 grade-point average and a combined $1.3 million in college scholarships,” according to The Post.

Their parents, meanwhile, logged in about “1,173,266 hours” of support time, half-joked parent John Johnson.

The story appears to substantiate the importance of parents in beating down the country’s widespread racial academic achievement gap. From the story,  on the importance of parents:

Hundreds of studies have documented how everything from the number of hours parents spend at their children’s school to the way they monitor television can be associated with academic success. For African American boys, parents can also play a crucial role in countering perceptions that they are more likely to be dropouts than valedictorians.

“You have to go out of your way to inoculate your kids against buying into those stereotypes,” said Ronald F. Ferguson, director of the achievement gap initiative at Harvard University, who is raising three black boys.

Factors I don’t see directly addressed in the newspaper’s report are the parents’ economic or educational standing, though the schools these kids attended are in wealthy Loudoun County outside Washington, D.C. One parent quoted is a school guidance director.

Low-income parents working multiple jobs, on the other hand, might have a tough time sandwiching such a support program into their lives.

So, locally, are there such parent-initiated groups?

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Minneapolis Public Schools personnel didn’t know of any such in their schools, though they mentioned there are respected community-based groups their students may participate in. (We’ve written about a couple.)  

But head north and find there was a similar “short-lived” initiative at Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids kicked off by African-American parents about three years ago.

Sadly, “It didn’t catch fire,’’ says Linda Rodgers, parent involvement coordinator for Anoka-Hennepin, the state’s largest district. She posits the cause was faceless technology. Pressed for time, parents too often try to communicate by email rather than convening “live, in person,” she says. You’ve got to develop human, in-person relationships first to get an effort like this to work, she believes.

What about you? Do you know of a local group like Club 2012? Start a conversation.