Standing in the middle of East Acres housing project, Oak Park Middle School teacher Wanda Merkt held a child she knew only as McKenzie.
“She’s related to one of my students,” she said.
Merkt, a special education teacher of more than 20 years, was among a group of educators and community leaders who, for a day, went to meet parents in their homes — rather than wait for them to come to school for parent-teacher conferences.
“Our goal is to reach out to parents to find out what they need and to let them know we care about them,” Oak Park Principal Ashley McIntyre said.
Merkt said Oak Park has never done anything like this.
That child she was holding is McKenzie Pugh. She is a cousin of Jada Kidd, one of Merkt’s students at Oak Park.
“To meet the parents in an atmosphere that is friendly is good, because sometimes it’s difficult for some of these parents to get to school,” Merkt said.
Most of the school-age children in East Acres attend Somerville Road Elementary, where the poverty rate is 93 percent.
“It’s good that they have come to us,” said Nia Patterson, who has children at Oak Park and Decatur High. “As strange as it sounds, there are a lot of parents who have a difficult time getting to the schools.”
Keeleykat Bonhotel, who moved to Decatur from New York two years ago, had similar feelings.
“This community is shattered because of the senseless violence, and this is what this area needs,” she said.
Bonhotel has two sons at Oak Park.
Stefanie Underwood, who is supervisor of special education for Decatur City Schools, broached the idea of the meeting after a group of school leaders returned from George Hall Elementary in Mobile.
George Hall overcame a 99 percent poverty rate to meet all federal No Child Left Behind goals.
“They got their parents involved at that school,” Underwood said.
Principal Teddi Jackson said parental involvement is a problem at Somerville Road.
“We’re trying to break down barriers by coming here,” she said. “A lot of times these parents don’t see us until there is trouble. We want to change that.”
Decatur High’s football team participated in the three-hour event that included games, food and a lot of interaction.
“I didn’t realize how much these kids look up to us until we got over here,” junior Austin Hughes said. “We need to get to know them because they are the future players at Decatur.”
The trip turned into a reunion for Trey Hayes, a sophomore linebacker.
“As soon as I turned the corner, he came running to me,” Hayes said of Somerville Road second-grader Charles McGhee.
The two were neighbors when McGhee lived in Dogwood subdivision near Wal-Mart.
“I was glad to see him,” McGhee said, smiling. “I want to wear one of those jerseys like him.”
“This is what it’s all about,” the Rev. Ronnie Powell said of the reunion with Hayes and McGhee. “Coming together and establishing relationships of trust. If we do more of this, it will be a positive change for all of Decatur.”
Deangelo McDaniel can be reached at 256-340-2469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not registered? Click here
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|