Austin official holds education meeting

July 19, 2010
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Ald. Deborah Graham recently launched the first of what she hopes will be several meetings of a “Did You Know?” campaign, which aims to increase awareness, especially among parents, about improving K-12 education in Austin.

About 70 people – including parents, block club leaders, principals and community activists – attended the July 8th meeting at Ella Flagg Young Elementary School.

The newly appointed alderman decided to organize the gathering after meeting with a group of Austin school principals concerned about low attendance, high drop-out rates and too little parent involvement.

“We started brainstorming about what we can do to raise some community awareness,” she said. “Parents, by and large, don’t even know when their children are absent from school.”

Rev. Leon Miller of Ebenezer Baptist Church said it’s critical that men involve themselves in a positive way in a child’s life. He also encouraged parents and the public school system to spend more money on after-school tutoring programs for students.

Students in Austin don’t have enough access to technology, some administrators said. Ella Young Assistant Principal Thomas Robinson, who recently wrote a grant that secured the school with 30 iPads, said the lack of computers is a major problem.

“Many of our children do not have Internet at home,” he said. “Kids have a problem doing a lot of the computer work, making copies, doing research, things of that nature.”

Others believe that technology is often more a hindrance than a help.

Sherri Quinones, management support director of Chicago Public School Area 3 (which is responsible for giving and tracking information for schools in the 29th Ward and other parts of the West Side), said technology like video games has made our society a fast-paced one where children “want everything right now.”

“They press a button and it turns on,” she said. “Reading doesn’t work like that. You have to work for it. The work ethic is being watered down in society.”

Quinones reminded the audience of important dates, including Aug. 9, when 15 of Austin’s public elementary schools – 10 in the 29th ward – are scheduled to begin classes on the year-round Track E calendar.

Classes begin Sept. 7 for other Austin public schools. Free tutoring is also available through CPS, but students must be registered before October. Call 773-535-5840 for more information.

Parents were encouraged to use the Parent Portal, a Chicago Public Schools Web site that allows parents to check their child’s grades and attendance. Though this program isn’t new, most parents don’t use it, CPS spokesman Quentin Mumphery said.

Sen. Don Harmon, State Rep. Camille Lilly and block club president Mary Brown also spoke at the hour-long event.

Afterward, Graham said, “It was a humble beginning.”

Dwayne Truss, a member of the Ella Flagg Young Local School Council, said he thought the meeting went well, the only downside being that not many parents attended.

The date of the next “Did You Know?” meeting has not yet been determined.

austintalks.org@gmail.com

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