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  1. Opinion

A black parent's memo for student success

Odessa Woodall Biandudi 
is now a dentist in Tampa, at right, and 
in high school, at left: “The ladies of Black Knights provided motivation when I did not feel like working. They were cheerleaders when I became discouraged and celebrated each success 
with me.”
Odessa Woodall Biandudi 
is now a dentist in Tampa, at right, and 
in high school, at left: “The ladies of Black Knights provided motivation when I did not feel like working. They were cheerleaders when I became discouraged and celebrated each success 
with me.”
Published Jan. 31, 2014

Our education system is in shambles. And as a mentor in our school system I see the first-line casualties: the minority students. We all know the grim numbers about the achievement gap and the low graduation rate of black students. As African-American parents, we need to make education a priority in our children's lives.

We can no longer just send them to school and expect the educators to be teachers, parents, counselors, advocates and cheerleaders. It does not require fortune, titles and degrees for us to educate our children. It does require a level of commitment. But know this: Very few teachers will refuse a genuine plea from a parent seeking help for her child.

Lower expectations produce lower results. So set high expectations. The advancement of our black race depends on it.

Coming from Haiti in the early 1970s in search of a better future, my parents taught us that education was our ticket out of poverty. They were right.

In that spirit, I'd like to share some lessons from what we learned over the years, as my sister and I formed a small support group of African-American parents and students — the Black Knights — to ensure that our children would succeed in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School. These girls were undoubtedly smart, but how many bright and promising students have fallen through the cracks?

That wasn't going to happen to our girls. The Black Knights met at my house every Saturday the first half of freshman year — 1998. The ladies would bring their backpacks and have homework sessions, with each helping the other in their area of strength. They shared their frustrations and their successes with each other in a noncompetitive and nurturing environment.

With each year, we would encourage all eligible African-American students to enter the IB program. I could answer questions as a mother of an IB veteran. By junior year, with the other grades combined, the group became so large that we could no longer meet at my house. We gathered at a church hall once a month, and it was a great atmosphere for the students to share ideas, information, fellowship and refreshments.

That day in 2002 when the first five Black Knights walked up on stage and received their diplomas was a crowning achievement for all of us. But the seeds of their success were planted long before.

During my oldest daughter's first week of kindergarten, I introduced myself to her teacher and gave her my telephone numbers. I showed her a spiral notebook I placed in my daughter's backpack so she could write anytime she needed to communicate with me. I wanted to remove any barrier between me and the person who would have my child five days a week for over five hours a day — her teacher. That involvement lasted through her entire her public school career.

So what lessons can we offer you today? There are many free yet powerful ways we can support our children's education.

• Attend school meetings as often as possible;

• Meet your child's teachers at least once in the school year;

• Ask to see their homework (even when we can't help them);

• Find them free help in the community where available;

• Ask the school for help for your child when needed;

• Take them to the local library to be around books;

• Get them a library card/Read to them in infancy;

• Ask your child about the school day and really listen;

• Talk to your child about college as a normal progression of their education.

As parents we must hold ourselves, our children, our school and our teachers accountable. My daughter received a great public education that prepared her to excel in life through higher learning. It did not happen in a vacuum.

Micki Morency is the mother of Elizabeth Morency, St. Petersburg International Baccalaureate Class of 2002. Micki is a freelance writer who lives in St. Petersburg. You can connect with her at: www.mickimorency.com. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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