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Parents train education advocates to help children succeed in school

The pandemic erased two decades of progress in reading and math scores for American students, and students of color fell behind even further.
Posted at 8:05 PM, Feb 26, 2023

In the wake of the pandemic, many parents realized their children were struggling in school and getting access to the right resources to get students caught up can be challenging, especially for students of color, who fell even further behind in math and reading.

But Scripps News found a mom who is getting students back on track, and she says it starts outside the classroom.

The question of how we make schools a place where every student succeeds is a big one.

But it’s a question Kimberly Dukes is answering one flyer at a time.

“We empower parents to disrupt the inequities ineducation, so we educate, engage, and empower parents to change our education system for all kids in public school,” said Dukes, the Executive Director and co-founder of Atlanta Thrive.

This mother of ten started Atlanta Thrive, a non-profit run by parents, for parents.

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Dukes says that if parents are better educated on how schools and districts operate, they can better help their students succeed.

“When parents don't know their rights, and parents don't know exactly what it is their child needs, or don't know how to speak up for themselves, they need a group like this because we're gonna come out, not only for our child, but we're showing up for your child as well,” said Dukes.

Atlanta Thrive members attend school board meetings, canvas neighborhoods and phone bank; they give parents the contacts and step-by-step instructions to:

Get students with special needs an Individualized Education Program or IEP.  

- Handle bullying.

- Get students the extra help if they’re not reading at grade level.

- Speak up to the school board to change school policy.

“We're able to build policy around our problems and root our problems into policy,” said Dukes.

Dukes says this work is even more critical in the wake of COVID.

The pandemic erased two decades of progress in reading and math scores for American students, and students of color fell behind even further. She says that’s why now is the time to act.

“Our kids and our families are in survival mode,” said Dukes.

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Mom Shawndrea Gay says she was in survival mode until she found Atlanta Thrive.“I'm a single mother of three children. I have a son who suffers with mental health issues, and I had to fight for over a year to get him my IEP and get him the help that he needs to be successful,” said Gay. 

Typically, it should take no more than a month to get an IP in place for a special needs student, but Gay says she was overwhelmed when her son’s plan took far longer.

“Before the plan came through, I would cry. I would stay up and cry,” said Gay.

Valexcias Wright felt that pain when her own son fell behind in class.

“I wasn't getting any results and no callback, no nothing. But, once they see you’ve got somebody that knows the system, a lot of things get done, versus just me trying to stand out, advocate for myself, I get overlooked,” said Wright.

These moms say, with Atlanta Thrive showing them what to ask for, the schools responded.  

“It helped relieve a lot of stress on me because sometimes, like they say, it takes a village to raise a child,” said Wright.

Dukes is now hoping to train more parent advocates and create an online guide of advice, expanding the village she’s created here to one day, help students nationwide.

“The key is that every child that looks like me will have a chance at a world-class education,” said Dukes.