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Summit Seeks to Engage Parents, Community

Gale Horton Gay | 10/17/2012, 1 a.m.

Sharing with the community how parents and those who care about young people can be effective change agents was the goal of the Parent Power Summit 2012.

The summit, which was held Saturday, Oct. 13 at Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville, drew a sparse crowd but that didn't diminish a Prince George's County Council member's enthusiasm for such programs."I am not at all discouraged," said Derrick Leon Davis, [D-Mitchellville], a Prince George's County council member, and the sponsor of the event. "I don't think the message changes if you have a million people or if you have 10," said Davis. "We will continue to put positive information into the ether."

The 25-30 individuals who attended participated in a panel discussion in the morning and a community dialogue in the afternoon. Exhibitors from several youth-oriented organizations such as Higher Hopes, A Legacy Left Behind, Take Charge, District Heights Family and Youth Services Center and the Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation were among those with displays at the event.

During the morning portion of the program, one of the participants, Phil Lee, said that the parents who "really need to be here are not here" and that efforts should be made "to try to find those parents who don't show up, don't participate, don't engage."

Sharing some of their experiences establishing youth and parent outreach efforts included panelists Valerie Nicholas, executive director of the parent academy Side by Side, Inc.; Margret Morgan-Hubbard, founder and chief executive officer of Eco City Farm; Herman Whaley, principal of Capitol Heights Elementary School, who in 2008 started a think tank at the school; and Michael Robinson, who has 30 years' experience in education and developed Men Make a Difference Day.

The panelists discussed a range of topics.

"People in the community don't understand the great thing to invest in is our young people," said Morgan-Hubbard. "We are constantly looking outside our community when the real strength is in the community."

She also talked about the "amazing" principals she has dealt with over the years, but the frustration of inconsistencies when principals were frequently transferred and rapport, trust and priority had to be established with a new individual. Because of this, programs were often halted or delayed.

Nicholas cited language as one of her biggest challenges.

"You have to speak the language of the parent to get the parent engaged," she said. "Some people I have dealt with didn't make education a priority."

Prince George's County Public School Board Chair Verjeana Jacobs dropped by the summit and said she was "delighted to see this type of community meeting engaging everybody."

Monique Alexander of Lanham, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Ernest Everett Just Middle School, said the summit is greatly needed, but she was disappointed in the turnout. "There's a lack of participation by the parents. They're not as involved as they should be in their child's education."

Alexander, whose 13-year-old daughter, accompanied her to the meeting, described the event's attendance as "way to common."

Dorothy Ray of Laurel showed up although she isn't a parent. Rays said she's "very interested in community activities and ways we can improve the quality of life in the community."

She said she attended the summit to find out how she can be part of the solution.

"I look at it as a collaborative effort, all of us. I am a citizen of this community."