At first glance, it looked like residents of the Highlands of East Atlanta Apartments were having nothing more than a simple summer block party—the smell of barbecue filled the air and a band played soul music from a makeshift stage.
Upon closer inspection, some in the crowd stood out; many attendees were wearing bright red shirts that read Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy (DLA). Others had DeKalb County School System badges on—this was more than just a block party.
“The intent is to raise student achievement by linking with parents and the community,” McNair DLA Principal Marchell Boston said.
Boston said that the school had decided to visit the apartment complex where most of their students live to go straight to the source to reach parents.
“This is an opportunity for us to form and cultivate relationships and promote active engagement as we raise student achievement,” Boston said.
The theme of the event was “Achieving Excellence Together,” and school staff was present along with members of the faith based organization Helping Hands International.
As members of Helping Hands cooked food for attendees and children played with balls, Boston addressed the attendees.
“Parents please note that your children mimic and learn from you,” he said. “If there’s any drama or issues in the community that involves you or another parent that has a child at our school, sometimes that creates problems for us. I’m asking that you be mindful of that type of thing.”
Assistant Principal Keshier Smikle then spoke to parents of the kindergarten through fifth graders about the importance of reinforcing math at home. She said that by doing some simple things such as having children follow along with recipes and practicing addition and subtraction, it could greatly increase a student’s chance of success in the classroom.
“You can help your child by asking them to read a clock. Simple things that you can do at home such as that will benefit them greatly at school,” Smikle said.
The other assistant principal—there are two at McNair DLA—LaShandra Hawkins, spoke briefly about the importance of parents reading with their children every night. She also said that parents could benefit from reading the same books that their children were reading.
As she wrapped up her speech, Hawkins said something that brought out cheers and applause from many of those present.
“I just want to leave you with this thought: it would be wonderful if all of our students became professional athletes, famous rappers and singers and dancers, but what good is it if they can’t read their own contracts or manage their own money?” Hawkins said.
Having parents reinforce what students learned at school during the day is something that Boston said was an integral part of student success.
“So often you hear about good schools and bad schools and the schools that are often categorized as good have that parental and community engagement. What we want to do this evening is extend ourselves. This is just our commitment to linking with the community,” Boston said.
Viola Benyard is a mother with an 8-year-old son at McNair DLA and a daughter in kindergarten, who will be attending the school next year.
Benyard said that she thought it was extremely important to be involved with the school and have a personal relationship with the teachers at her child’s schools.
“He was so excited this morning, he said ‘Mom don’t be at work, please don’t miss this.’ When they have things like this I make sure to be here because it motivates [my kids],” Benyard said.
Benyard explained that her son had been attending McNair DLA since kindergarten and has been on the principal’s list ever since. She attributed some of her son’s success to her involvement with the school and her good relationship with his teachers.
“The teachers all know who I am and they can call me at the drop of a dime and I’m always there. I try to do everything with my babies,” Benyard said.
After the speeches were over, Boston stepped back onto the stage and said that it was time to eat.
However, in order for the attendees to eat, the students had to bring their parents to a table where their teacher sat and introduce them. The teacher would then give them a ticket for the meal.
Just one more way, Boston said, for parents and community members to connect with school staff.