Academy helps turn parents into advocates | VailDaily.com

Academy helps turn parents into advocates

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

Eagle County Parent Academy

Who: Eagle County parents interested in learning how to advocate for their children’s schools at a local and state level.

When: Sessions are from 6 to 9 p.m. at CMC in Edwards on every other Tuesday beginning Jan. 12. Applications are due by Dec. 18 at 11:59 p.m.

How much: Free for accepted applicants.

More info: Apply at www.coloradokids.org. For more info, contact Maggie Swonger at maggieswonger@gmail.com or call 970-306-5460.

EAGLE COUNTY — Where does funding come from for local schools? How does the state’s school budget get decided? How can parents make their voice heard in their child’s education?

Those questions can seem daunting, and making the answers less complicated is the goal of the Eagle County Parent Academy. The five session program, an initiative of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, is for parents interested in learning how to advocate for high-quality education in their community and at the state level. A select number of parents who apply for the free program will be accepted, and applications due Friday.

The Eagle County program is one of four in the state, with other participating communities including metro Denver, Pueblo and Salida. It will include classroom sessions, panel discussions, coaching and speakers.

“The program is designed so that parents feel like they have the tools they need to be the best advocate for their children,” said Colorado Children’s Campaign CEO and President Chris Watney. “It revolves around ensuring that parents understand the education system in their state and community — how to communicate at the school board level, even at the state level, or writing a letter to the editor and how to interact with the media.”

Shelby Edwards, the group’s education initiatives manager, said that many parents want to get more involved in their child’s education but don’t know how to do it. Even for people who work in the field, understanding the state’s process in education decisions can be complicated unless you have some foundational knowledge, said Edwards, and that’s what the academy aims to provide.

“Someone might have a passion for something, but not have the tools to really make an impact,” she said.

Big impacts

The first Parents Academy was held last spring for 15 Front Range parents. From that group, two ran for their local school boards, one started a community collective advocating for schools and another went back to her community and joined a project to pass some bonds for school improvement. Another parent helped their kids’ charter school with an expansion project.

Watney said that now is an especially important time for parents to get involved.

“Colorado can be very proud that it’s been at the forefront of the country as far as education assessment and standards. That also means there are things that are changing, and parents are hungry to learn how that change is affecting their children and the children in their community,” said Watney.

Eagle County organizer Maggie Swonger, who will be leading the local program, said it is also important for parents to get educated with state legislators working on a new budget.

“We’re 48th in the country as far as per-pupil funding, and we’re just falling further and further behind,” said Swonger. “I know a lot of families who move away so they can live in a place that will provide a better education for their kids. This is a chance to address that and have an impact on our own schools and towns.”

The Eagle County Parent Academy will be held starting Tuesday, Jan. 12. Sessions are three hours long and are held every other week. Dinner is provided, and childcare and mileage reimbursement are also available.

Find out more or apply for the program at http://www.colorado kids.org/action/advocate/parent-academy.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.