—Karyn White, Mom Congress delegate from New Jersey
As news of impending education budget cuts, teacher layoffs and swelling class sizes dominates national headlines, these simple requests shared by millions of parents of school-age kids in the U.S. are more important than ever—yet they often take a back seat to the louder battle cries of education reform. To ensure that families' voices are heard, Parenting magazine recently launched the Mom Congress on Education and Learning, an initiative to give the 550,000 readers of Parenting School Years the tools they need to make a difference in their children's education. What began as a regular editorial education feature and an online community where mom advocates could share ideas soon became something much larger, as more than 18,000 moms signed on to become part of the initiative and join the fight for better schools.
But the real magic happened this spring at Georgetown University, when Parenting magazine hosted its first Mom Congress on Education and Learning conference. Fifty-one amazing, inspirational women—one representing each state and the District of Columbia—met in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of our education system and what parents need to do to help fix it. They met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who hosted a town hall on family engagement in education for the Mom Congress delegates and hundreds of passionate D.C.-area parents. They heard from more than a dozen leaders from the country's most prominent education and advocacy organizations, including the George Lucas Educational Foundation, National Education Association, National PTA, and MomsRising.org.
In the weeks leading up to the conference, and in the days that followed, the 51 delegates have become true ambassadors for Mom Congress and the importance of family engagement in education, spreading the word about the initiative and its goals through their local news outlets, blogs and social media, and mobilizing other parents in their states to share their passion for improving the educational opportunities available to our nation's children.
In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Beebe spoke at a "Mom Congress send-off" media event hosted by the school of his state's delegate, Melanie Fox. In Georgia, Mom Congress delegate Michelle Kelly received a city proclamation at a ceremony hosted by the mayor of Marietta and its city council. Gwen Eaddy Samuel of Connecticut collected dozens of letters from children at an event at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Meriden to deliver to Secretary Duncan at Mom Congress. More than 40 delegates appeared on local TV programs, were interviewed in their local newspapers or were highlighted by local websites in their hometowns in honor of their selection to represent their states at the Mom Congress conference.
Hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts later, the Mom Congress conversation is still going strong, and the moms have already begun to take action. Using donations from the conference sponsors, the moms are working with local schools and community organizations in their states to set up book-reading stations to encourage early literacy, courtesy of KinderCare, in addition to providing their schools with more than $2,000 of Tag School Reading Systems and books donated by LeapFrog.
While the Mom Congress delegates worked on Parenting's "Lesson Plan for Change," a guide to getting more involved in education that will appear in the October issue of Parenting School Years, Parenting learned a few lessons of its own about how to successfully mobilize moms and advertisers in support of an important cause:
- Lesson No. 1: Give moms a way to connect—both online and in person. While the conversation began and has continued on Parenting.com/momcongress, through Facebook and Twitter, some of the most powerful insights were exchanged and gathered from the moms when they had the chance to interact with one another face to face for two days. The event sponsors, KinderCare and LeapFrog, also took advantage of the opportunity, sending notable education experts from each of their respective organizations to address and interact with conference attendees; and they have been engaged in conversation with the moms about education issues ever since.
- Lesson No. 2: Let each member ignite her own passion, but then give all of them the tools to fuel the flame. Each mom contributed something entirely different to the Mom Congress conversation, whether she was an advocate for healthy school lunches, special needs programs, anti-bullying policies or early literacy programs. Giving them access to experts in each area at the conference was the first step, but the real value of the initiative will be in the work that Parenting and its partners are doing following the event to provide moms with the tools and resources that they need to make a difference.
- Lesson No. 3: Let your members guide the way. Some of the most successful moves that the Parenting Group has made can be attributed to its constant conversation with moms through market research and online dialogues. In fact, their feedback about the lack of resources for moms of school-age kids led the Parenting Group to create the publication that served as the inspiration for the Mom Congress on Education and Learning: Parenting School Years.
Now, as Mom Congress takes off, Parenting will once again turn to moms to help steer the course. The 51 Mom Congress delegates' work continues as they drive the conversation about Mom Congress on Facebook and Twitter, guest blog on Parenting.com and contribute to the October issue's "Lesson Plan for Change", an advocacy tool kit for readers who want to join the fight for better schools in their districts.
In his address at the Mom Congress Town Hall, Secretary Duncan said, "Americans strongly believe that good parenting and family involvement in schools are essential if children are going to flourish and fulfill their dreams. The extraordinary accomplishments of the mothers in this Mom Congress are testament to that belief." As he went on to explain, we face a critical turning point for our country's education system, and it's more crucial than ever to listen to parents and give them a forum to voice their concerns, share their ideas and effect real change. And because Mom Congress offers moms this outlet, every stakeholder in the initiative has benefited. The Department of Education was able to reach some of the country's most influential parent advocates with its message of education reform; KinderCare and LeapFrog connected their brands to a pro-social initiative that reinforces the educational value that their products and services provide; and Parenting gained 51 new contributors who will help fuel its editorial coverage of education issues and inspire millions of readers to take action.
But, as the testimonials provided by each participant demonstrated after the event was over and its impact had been made, the real beneficiaries of all these efforts are the ones that matter most of all: our children.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Greg Schumann is VP-group publisher of the Parenting Group.