Jonesboro residents James and Brenda Patterson, left, have a freshman at Drew High School. The married couple of 24 years was among a few hundred parents and students who attended Clayton County Public Schools’ annual Title I Parent Meeting Saturday. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)
RIVERDALE — A parent asked how she could best prepare her child for college.
And his answer, swift and simple, drew applause and head nods from the federal programs staff standing in a corner of the gymnasium.
“Literacy,” said Steve Perry, keynote speaker at Clayton County Public Schools’ Title I Parent Meeting Saturday.
Katrina Thompson is the district’s federal programs director. She and her staff organized the event to inform parents and inspire them to get involved in their children’s education.
She echoed the sentiment in promoting literacy.
“That’s it,” said Thompson. “That’s the key. Literacy across the curriculum is the most important point.”
Thompson pointed to Perry’s advocacy in personal and civic responsibility in educating young people, and she noted his success as principal and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn.
“We always look for someone to teach our parents how to be engaged because we know that’s the only way we’re going to increase our student achievement,” she said. “Parents have to be accountable for what their child is learning.”
Perry is an author, an education contributor for CNN and MSNBC and an Essence magazine columnist. He speaks on building up individuals and community as means to raising citizens who contribute in positive ways to society.
He spoke to a few hundred parents and students seated in the gymnasium at Charles Drew High School Saturday.
“There are two sides responsible for educating children,” he said. “There’s an educator’s side, but then there is a parent’s side.”
Perry said the education process begins well before a student sets foot on a school campus. He said it begins with training in the home.
“Their ears should be trained to hear and to mind,” Perry said. “There’s no reason your child should get out of bed and leave that bed unmade.
“When a child comes from a structured environment and goes into another structured environment, they know how to act,” he continued. “That structure makes it possible for them to learn. Children that can learn can change the world.”
Audience members James and Brenda Patterson nodded in agreement. The married couple of 24 years have a 14-year-old son in the district.
“We plan to be sort of like helicopter parents,” Brenda Patterson said.
“We hope to keep him active and out of trouble,” added James Patterson.
“We’re going to keep him prayed up,” Brenda Patterson continued. “We’re going to keep him in prayer because we know what’s out there against him.”
Their youngest child and only son is a freshman at Charles Drew High, where Gary Townsend is principal.
Brenda Patterson said it is important to her that her son “goes to school every day with other strong figures” in addition to his father.
“I said we hit the jackpot when we found out we had to come here,” she said. “I love that there are black males in charge.”
The Pattersons run a two-parent household.
But for most families in the district, that is not the case, Perry said. Many adults have to shoulder parenting responsibilities on their own.
“That means that this school, or schools in this county, are more vital than you think,” he said.
Perry said school communities are “co-parenting” out of necessity, which means individuals in the communities must demonstrate empathy for parents and children who have those challenges.
“The kids you think are the worst want to be here the most,” he said. “They don’t miss school for nothing.”
He said he believes young people yearn for a place to belong and people to belong to.
“Our children want and need to trust somebody,” Perry said.
He added that, while students depend on their parents for guidance and structure, they also respond well to challenges to become better versions of themselves.
“When you tell a kid their dream isn’t big enough, that doesn’t make them feel small,” Perry said. “That makes them feel big.”