Newark Public Charter Finds the Formula: Parent Engagement + Student Achievement = Success

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Jamira Watkins, Cheryl McCants and Sonia Alleyne are members of Impact Consulting Enterprises.

Roseville Community Charter School (RCC), located in Newark, N.J.’s north ward, recently hosted its Kings and Queens Who Read – read-aloud programs engaging their student scholars, parents, and prominent community members from the Greater Newark Area. Led by RCCS’s Executive Director, Dr. Dionne Ledford, Roseville started this initiative to impact literacy scores and increase parental engagement. Test scores had previously been linked to the level of parent participation or lack thereof. “It’s not that the parents didn’t have an interest in their child’s education,” says Dr. Ledford. “They honestly did not know where they can fit in. I wanted to afford an opportunity for our parents to be invited in.” Literacy is the foundation for achievement at any school and Ledford wanted to ensure that literacy reigned. That’s how Kings and Queens who read came to fruition. What better way to get parents and guardians involved in their children’s education than making reading fun? 

As Ledford explains, “Programs like this encourage our children not only to read, but to love reading. Seeing your parents or someone else’s parent come and read to an entire class is impactful. If they see that, they will mimic that behavior. That’s what kids do; they mimic grown-up behavior. If grownups are only on their phones, they will only be on their phones. If they see them in a book, it helps develop a love for reading.

Achievement gaps in education for children of color occur way before they start to attend school. That’s why early childhood development is important. If the foundational skills have not been taught, the gaps will widen as they progress in the elementary school process. We can begin to fill those gaps.” 

Understanding the challenges that many children of color face is critical to understanding the impact of education on a community’s economic future. And, a child’s learning abilities, including environment, support, and structure, generally affect their earning potential as adults.

Ledford is passionate and determined to create a strong foundation for her young students. It is why she has created structures and programs that focus on early childhood development for RCC students, whom they refer to as scholars, in grades K to 4. 

Ledford, along with RCC staff and the school’s literacy coach believe learning is a communal responsibility, so they invited community leaders, school board members, as well as parents and guardians to join RCC’s read-aloud programs. Kings Who Read, which Ledford started in 2019, was created with two goals in mind. First, she wanted to get fathers, male guardians, and men in the community more involved in student and school activities and secondly, she wanted her scholars to develop a love for and an on-going interest in reading. “We truly wanted to get our fathers more involved. When our little boys see grown men reading, they then know it is important to read,” she offers. “Fathers set the example in their household and in their child’s lives daily. Seeing this really motivates our scholars.” 

The Kings event also featured several prominent male figures including City of Newark Police Chief Lee Douglas, City of Newark Fire Chief Rufus Jackson, and Newark native, Johnath Davis, author of Girl Dad. This program was so successful that it demanded the creation of Queens Who Read, to involve mothers, mother figures, and female community leaders in the read-aloud program. launched this past March in honor of Women’s History Month, Queens Who Read “is an opportunity to not only help our students by challenging their thinking to become critical learners, it also honors and celebrates the unsung members of our community who are making a difference every day,” Ledford commented.

Both programs directly increased parental academic support and student engagement. “With the parents, they are more involved. Our parents are more active participants in our school events. They call the school more and some are now even class parents.” 

Research shows that reading to a child serves as an essential contributor to their intellectual development, and also helps youngsters effectively interpret inflection, tone, and emotion. Reading also assists in motor skill development. RCCS emphasizes reading and parental support through workshops and collaborative problem-solving partnerships as part of its early childhood learning and development curriculum. The school’s mission to instill its scholars with the discipline and character required for academic success in high school, college, and beyond drives Ledford and the entire RCC team. 

When reflecting on the Kings and Queens who read programs, Ledford shares, “They have had a tremendous effect. When children ask questions during these sessions, it means they’re thinking! So, I love it when they are asking questions. That means they are thinking about what they just saw, what they heard, and what they experienced. I tell my teachers that the time after the book is read, and kids are asking questions, is the most important part. This is when you find out what connections are being made.”

 

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