Parenting the Dream at a Struggling School

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I live down the block [from Thomas Jefferson High School–one of the most violent schools in the city, according to recent announcements by the Bloomberg administration]. Twelve years ago two students were shot in this building. That was one reason I sent my oldest child to Martin Luther King High School.

I worked in 2 World Financial Center at an accounting firm. I got laid off after 9/11. My son was shot in January that following year–on Martin Luther King’s birthday in Martin Luther King’s high school. My wife was due with another baby in February. My 13-year-old was having a lot of problems in school. I was on the Department of Education website looking for assistance for him and saw an ad for parent coordinator. It’s divine intervention.

I’m basically starting from scratch in terms of parent involvement. A lot of parents don’t realize they need help, so I’m trying to create resources and workshops for them and just listen as opposed to criticizing and scolding them like some people around here do, treating them like children themselves.

The majority of these kids are failing. [The school] blames the parents–a parent walks in thinking they already have an image as a bad parent, so it’s already off to a bad start. I greet parents and navigate them through the school, try to make them relax, try to defuse the situation because a lot of times they have a problem with the school, and the school has an issue with the parent. They’re usually arguing before they get together. I’m the middleman. You’ve got to open the school up completely because the school is cut off from the community.

I firmly believe I’m here on a mission. Not only that, I was one of these kids, like what’s in here now, on the streets, hanging out. That’s one of the reasons I have an 18-year-old: I was a teenage dad.

Once I had my son, the hustling, selling drugs, or robbing wasn’t what I wanted. I got my GED when I was 21. I got some college-level education. I’m still on that quest to finish school, so I can get deeper into the DOE.

That’s what I bring here–the aspiration, that fire–despite my conditions, I can still make a difference. I’m like on the NASDAQ: going up and down, but I’m not out yet.

–Waddell Parks, Parent Coordinator at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brownsville, as told to Amy Zimmer