Parent Safety Patrol hopes to expand beyond Denison School
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, June 2007) The Denison School Parent Safety Patrol has helped to create order as students enter and exit the school each day.
As school let out on Thursday May 10th, Parent Safety Patrol members Tracie Watkins, Jan Nelson and Marilyn Jones were out in the parking lot wearing their bright neon green Parent Safety Patrol t-shirts. The parents make sure that students exit the schoolyard peacefully and serve as a focal point for students needing assistance.
Nelson, who has two children at Denison School, says that being on the Parent Safety Patrol is “like I’ve adopted a hundred other kids. Kids see these shirts and they come right up to you.”
While the parents are outside in the parking lot keeping order, their children inside are getting a start on homework under the watchful eye of Parent Safety Patrol Member Dollie Stoddard. On May 10th, eight children are inside with Stoddard working on various projects as their parents patrol the schoolyard.
The Denison School Parent Safety Patrol grew out of efforts by members of Brooklyn Memorial United Methodist Church to reach out to the neighborhood school. The church, which is just around the block from Denison School, is a member of the Northeast Alliance for Hope.
Church members helped to organize increased participation of parents in the School Parent Organization(SPO). A grant from a family foundation helped to provide snacks at parent meetings. Seventy parents participated in the SPO elections. Soon parents developed an agenda, which included making the school safer as students entered and exited the building.
Denison School, in its second year as a Kindergarten through 8th Grade school, is still adjusting to having older middle school-aged children at the school. Rev. Jennifer Steinfurth, pastor at Brooklyn Memorial United Methodist Church, says parents were happy with the teachers and the educational quality inside the school, but concerned with safety of the students before and after school.
Parent Tracie Watkins says he saw the need for change when he dropped his son off at school in the morning to a scene he described as “chaos” by students he witnessed outside the school, “We needed to do something to bring them under control and protect them from themselves.”
Brooklyn Memorial UMC Pastor Rev. Steinfurth would like to see the Parent Safety Patrol idea spread to other schools in the Cleveland Municipal School District. To that end, church members and Denison School parents and staff are pitching expansion of the plan to organizations involved in educational reform.
At the Annual Banquet of the Northeast Alliance of Hope, an interdenominational faith based issue-oriented group, Rev. Steinfurth urged the group to take on helping to spread the Parent Patrols to other schools in the Cleveland Municipal School District as this coming year’s Call to Action.
Joining Steinfurth and members of her church in the Call to Action at the May 5th Banquet were Denison School Principal Leslie Tranter, Denison School Security Guard Michael Escalante, and parent patrol members Sue Riedthaler, Tracie Watkins and Dollie Stoddard.
Rev. Steinfurth put forth a goal of meeting with principals and parents of other interested schools prior to the end of this school year, using the summer to organize the groups and launching new parent patrols in the fall. Steinfurth says she wanted to “share the story of how community organizing can make a difference.”
Cleveland Municipal School District Chief Executive Officer Dr. Eugene Sanders, the keynote speaker at NOAH’s banquet, followed Rev. Steinfurth to the podium and pledged his support for the parent patrols. “Thank you for the work you are doing at Denison School. We will certainly want to join your efforts in creating parent patrols in other parts of the district,” said CEO Sanders.
Members of Brooklyn Memorial United Methodist Church and NOAH also are participants in the Cleveland Education Committee, an educational advocacy group currently working with community based organizations to increase their organizing around school issues. The Cleveland Education Committee held its April meeting at Brooklyn Memorial UMC. Rev. Steinfurth described to the group the how parent organizing initiated by members of the church had led to the creation of the Parent Safety Patrol. She noted how grant money from a donation to the church helped to support the outreach efforts and to pay for t-shirts and walkie-talkies for parents.
Members of the Cleveland Education Committee were supportive of the idea of helping to spread the organizing efforts to other schools. Group member Norma Jean Freeman urged the group to go beyond organizing parents to being involved in safety. She urged the group to find ways to use parents to “engage children’s minds.” Freeman suggested forming Neighborhood Education Committees that would seriously respond to Chief Executive Officer’ Eugene Sanders call to create a “premier school district.” One idea Freeman put forth was to use parents from Cleveland’s multi-ethnic population to help teach children different languages. She noted the difference that learning Latin had made in her own life. Freeman stressed the importance of engaging parents as mentors and role models in passing on their skills to students.
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