Program Seeks to Create Schools that Enable Children to Reach Their Potential
The Brazilian author and educator, Paolo Freire, suggests that people will only be free once they develop a certain level of consciousness and thinking processes. Freire believes that this can only happen when a bond develops between the teacher and the learner that allows for a two-way relationship.
“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress,” Freire wrote in one of his most famous pieces, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Freire’s thinking and writings helped inform the philosophy of PIQE, the Parent Institute for Quality Education.
The California-based organization seeks to provide families with the knowledge and skills to partner with schools and communities to ensure that their children achieve their full potential.
PIQE’s work and mission grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s when issues of equity in education were just beginning to bubble up into the nation’s conscience.
The organization officially formed in 1987, when its two founders, Rev. Vahac Mardirosian and Dr. Alberto Ochoa, asked the San Diego superintendent of schools for permission to reach out to the families at Sherman Elementary School, which was ranked academically at the bottom of 109 elementary schools within the San Diego Unified School District.
With the superintendent’s support, Rev. Mardirosian and Dr. Ochoa invited families of Sherman Elementary School students to meet and discuss the low academic achievement of their children.
At the meeting, parents were asked to offer their theories for why their students were performing poorly. They were also asked if anything happening at home, school or in the community could be contributing to the children’s poor academic performance.
The meeting expanded from what was planned to be a one-time, two-hour meeting of a handful of families to eight weeks of sessions involving more than 90 families
The families identified 54 areas of concern that were directly impacting student learning and Dr. Ochoa, a professor at San Diego State University, took the list of issues and developed a series of workshops designed for K-12 parents.
These parent engagement workshops, now referred to as PIQE’s Nine-Week Parent Engagement in Education Program, became popular throughout San Diego and continues today, both in San Diego and throughout California and in fourteen other states and Mexico City. The overarching drive of PIQE is to create schools that promote democratic values, inclusion, and access to opportunity.
Patricia Mayer, vice president of program development for PIQE, has been with the organization since its founding and participated in the initial meetings.
She described the main takeaways from the initial PIQE meetings: “The discussion was precisely around the lack of understanding of the school system because the majority of these families were immigrants. They have very little understanding of how the school system works or how it wasn’t working for the children. They had no idea.”
Meyer said PIQE organizers began identifying the patterns that were repeating from families’ own experiences as students themselves.
“One of the days I remember very vividly, parents stood up and said, ‘You know we do not know what we do not know and this is a very dangerous place to be because people are judging us for not behaving in a way that will come from having knowledge,’” she said.
For instance, she explained that some families had no idea that their child could be in the fifth grade still reading at a second grade reading level.
“It was very eye opening, not just for the families, but even for us educators,” she said.
She said what PIQE discovered and continues to see in many schools is a “total disconnect” and “lack of intentionality” to bring the families in on equal footing.
PIQE organizers initially thought that school districts would be happy for the information about the blind spots and the questions from parents. “Little did we know that when we presented the findings of all of the things that families were not able to articulate or understand or act on, we realized that the district didn’t have the capacity, the desire or the mechanism to address those things in a culturally appropriate way,” she said.
Mayer explained that the families were and are a powerful asset for schools. “We know that these families had a tremendous background and they were survivors – many of them immigrants – who had travelled literally thousands of miles to bring their children to have a good education. So they have all kinds of resources – internal resources and resilience,” she said.
And yet, the school district was in no position to address the pervasive lack of understanding.
PIQE organizers realized that districts weren’t going to be able to work with parents in a meaningful way, so they created its current structure and became a vehicle for meaningful change.
Today, its programming, which includes a variety of programs and courses for families, is in place in 14 states and throughout much of California. The program has been taught in 16 different languages.
Mayer said the work is definitely making a difference, but she realizes that there’s a whole group of parents who are still not being reached – those who aren’t going to show up for meetings or enroll in the nine-week program.
“How do you reach those families? That’s the question that people ask me the most. We are killing trees sending flyers and flyers and flyers and families do not come and. And guess what? Next school year, the principal is going to kill another couple hundred of trees sending more flyers to families and still do not come,” Mayer said.
The answer, she said, is to keep working on a process to reach the families who are overwhelmed, “who are working two or three jobs and who are very tired.”
One solution that they’ve been using is having families, who have graduated from the PIQE program, serve as recruiters for others. The families call with the sanction of the school principals and other teachers. PIQE calls every single household to make a personal invitation on behalf of the school principal. It requires this level of intentionality to get the results that PIQE gets.
- Families must be empowered.
- Families often don’t know what they don’t know.
PIQE creates partnerships between parents, students, and educators to further students’ academic achievement that has been enhanced since our inception in 1987. Public schools value us, parents need us, and students use us as a springboard to their own personal and career success.