Parents Connected, formed by Tina Price and Synitha Walker, mothers of students at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, is a grassroots effort to show kids that college is within their reach, and show parents that it’s affordable. AUSD parents Velma Waddele, Maria Healy and Darice Ingram have also come on board.
“We want parent involvement,” Walker said. “If everyone contributes a little bit, it goes a long way.”
What started with a California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) prep course taught in Walker’s kitchen in November of 2009 has blossomed into a full-fledged program that offers SAT and ACT preparation, college nights and college tours. The parents also read and offer feedback to application essays before students sent them off.
Students are grateful to have someone guide them through the sometimes tedious and confusing process of applying to colleges.
“They go over the material after we take the test, and I feel more confident about what I just learned,” said Ixchel Shade, a student at the Delta Academy for Performing Arts. “They explain to me how it ties into real life and how you need to graduate. I feel like this group is actually broadening everyone’s horizon. It’s explaining to everyone how important it is to take responsibility in our education.”
Walker credited what she called the “power of 100” as an effective way to raise money for the college tours. Students asked 100 people for $6 each. In April, Parents Connected has organized two tours – one of California schools such as Stanford, San Diego State, USC and Pepperdine, and another for historically black colleges and universities such as Morehouse College, Florida A&M, Grambling and Prairie View A&M.
Last year, Parents Connected teamed up with the Step Higher Program and conducted 15 students on a tour of East Coast colleges.
“The students were more enlightened, and they were productive in their work and goal-oriented in trying to meet the requirements to get to the college of their choice,” Walker said. “It was nice just seeing the dorms and seeing how the students conduct themselves, and the football field, the social life and the classrooms. … They figured out what kind of college they want to go to.”
Parents Connected is connected with universities such as Cal State East Bay, where a counselor often looks over college applications before students submit them. Numerous organizations are pitching in, such as the Antioch Police Activities League, which helped Parents Connected fund a tour of Fresno State. Dozier-Libbey and Deer Valley high schools have also given the organization office space.
Word is spreading quickly throughout Northern California. Waddele, whose son is a freshman at Freedom High School, has been in contact with the Liberty Union High School District about starting up a similar program there. Walker said that Pittsburg Unified School District, as well as Stockton Unified School District and a district in San Jose are interested in Parents Connected.
“When I was in school, I didn’t know these things that I’m teaching students now,” Walker said. “I didn’t want them to go through the same things I went through. I found out in 12th grade that I should’ve taken an honors class. I thought they were all the same.”
The next Parents Connected event is Middle School Night, held Feb. 23 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Antioch High, 700 W. 18th St. Cal State East Bay counselor Marc Strong will lead a presentation showing parents how to prepare for the important ACT and SAT exams, and explore financial aid and planning for a college future.