The Parent Mentor Program engages parents in their children's education. Parents participate in the program with very few prerequisites. In the interview process they are informed that they must have a child that attends the school they are applying to and that they are not allowed to volunteer in their own child’s class. Everyone is encouraged to have a proactive attitude to their children's education. Even grandparents who are considered to be the legal guardians/caretaker of their kids are encouraged to become Parent Mentors.
Parent Mentors are in the classroom two hours a day, 4 days a week to work with children who need help with math and reading. The role of the Parent Mentor is to work with children who need more support and work steadily with them, so they advance in their learning and do not feel they are not getting the help they need. This allows the teacher to continue at pace with other children who are at level and ready to move forward in the lesson. Parent Mentors bring community life into the classroom as well as serving as an extra set of eyes and ears for the teacher. Many of our teachers do not live in the community, therefore the parent mentors work with the teacher, allowing them to establish connections between the students and the teachers when it comes to their daily lives.
On June 8th, 1,381 Parent Mentors gathered for the 2022 Parent Mentor Graduation Gala which allowed the group to experience the joy of being able to congregate together and take part in such a huge event for the first time since coming back from the pandemic. The Parent Mentor program has grown significantly since the start of the pandemic when it was in 140 schools but now works within 201 schools across Illinois. Being able to see one another after such a long time really reinforced how so many people care and want to be part of the education system that their kids are going through. As their names were called out by organizations to cross the stage and greet the legislators in attendance, the feeling of accomplishment fueled the passion they felt for the work they do.
SWOP knows this work is important because it helps communities that lack resources for Black and Brown families fight for resources they need and deserve. In SWOP’s experience, parents are the best advocates for their children, and when going through this program SWOP gets to see parents become more involved outside of the schools and do more work within and for their communities. More of the parents begin partnering with other SWOP initiatives that are meant to assist the community. When asked about the future of the Parent Mentors, Maggie Perales, the Director of the Parent Mentor Program, said “I want to see our communities prosper, and when we have parents involved, there is more leadership in the communities. This program helps families begin to build social capital as well as financial capital.”
In order to continue to spread awareness of the Parent Mentors’ work, SWOP highly encourages one on one meetings with friends, family, and community members. In order for the community to learn more about the great work that is happening, it is important for everyone to learn how to come out of their comfort zone and reach out and connect with each other. This applies to more than just the Parent Mentor Program, but to everything that SWOP does. Being intentional and really doing relationship building with community members allows everyone to connect on a deeper level and build power with one another.