ROCHESTER — Eighteen parents from around the county became the first graduates of the Greater Rochester Parent Leadership Training Institute last month.
Following the graduation ceremony that included certificate presentations and lots of applause on April 8 at Rochester’s City Hall, the parents said that they will continue to work on improving their own communities individually and as a group.
Luva Álvarez of Greece said that the parents are still deciding what that collaborative project will be but was thrilled to have been part of the inaugural yearlong training sessions.
"All of us came from different backgrounds and walks of life with a common goal: to make a difference in our community," added Álvarez, who is originally from Brooklyn.
Nelida Torres of Rochester said that when she learned how the training would help the parents develop their own service projects, she immediately signed up. She first learned about PTLI from a friend’s post on the social-networking site Facebook, she added.
"I have a passion for parent involvement and education, especially reading," said Torres as she held her 1-year-old son. "This was kind of an outlet for me to share that passion."
During the 20-week program, the parents gained such skills as how to approach political leaders and create change in their own neighborhoods, program officials said. The four-hour weekly sessions offered information on leadership and networking, diversity, public policy, media outreach, budgets and legislation.
The program evolved as a partnership between city and suburban districts, which recommended parents who had applied for the training, explained Carolyn Lee-Davis, PTLI’s coordinator.
Between selecting candidates and preparing the training sessions, the planning process took longer than a year, she added, and included input from a civic design team with members from throughout the Rochester area.
Mary Jo Brach of the Family Resource Centers, who served on the civic design team, applauded the courage it took for those parents to step forward and "say we want to be leaders."
"And that is exactly what these parents have done," she added. "We need to incorporate the strong voices of parents in our efforts. … Parents are our children’s first teachers and have the potential to be their best advocates."
"Anytime we can foster parent (and) school partnerships, children benefit … especially in challenging students’ academic potential," agreed Jeffrey Crane, superintendent of the West Irondequoit Central School District.
Even though an Irondequoit parent was not able to complete the training, Crane said that he is already thinking of parents to nominate for the next PTLI.
"I saw PTLI as a wonderful opportunity to not only allow parents to learn more about those partnerships, but to do so in a setting that included participants from diverse backgrounds," he added.
The diversity of concerns and depth of motivation by the parents who invested so much time in training has been impressive, added Brach.
"They all had one thing in common — wanting to improve the lives of our children and children across the Rochester area," noted Clayton Osborne of True Insights, another civic design team member.
With that common goal in mind, the group needs to stay together as they go their separate ways, said Jeff Sciortino of Rochester who said the PTLI experience was "inspiring, positive and powerful."
"Our power is not from feeling that we are the same, but that we are connected," said Sciortino, who is working to develop a regional academy with students from the city and suburbs.
The graduates will continue to meet on a monthly basis now that their weekly sessions have concluded, added Lee-Davis. They also have agreed to be available to help the next class of parents who embark on the training, she said.
Álvarez said that the value of learning how to access public-policy data and contact government officials as well as how to network effectively is priceless. She created a program so more parents in Greece feel comfortable coming into their children’s schools.
Offering parents something as simple as wearing a sticker that states "I am an involved parent" instead of the "visitor" sticker used by most districts can make a world of difference, added Álvarez.
"We want to become change agents," she remarked.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the Parent Leadership Training Institute, call 585-341-4345 or e-mail GreaterRochesterPTLI@gmail.com. Applications also are available at www.greaterrochesterplti.org.