“Going green” to boost parent involvement in struggling high schools

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A former local school council member of Fenger and Carver high schools is trying to gain traction for a proposal to bring green jobs training for students and parents to seven low-performing high schools.

A former local school council member of Fenger and Carver high schools is trying to gain traction for a proposal to bring green jobs training for students and parents to seven low-performing high schools.

Darryl Gibson says parental involvement is virtually non-existent in many schools in poor communities, and his proposal would address the problem while raising the expectations for academic success of both parents and students.

“My thought is that the way to get parents involved in struggling schools is to have parents trained themselves, so they can better their own lives,” Gibson says. “I think it will filter down to the children.”

The program addresses both short and long-term community problems. “We’re looking to put dollars in parents’ pockets, but we also want them to have a marketable skill,” says Gibson. He envisions trainees getting skills that can help them find employment and perform work on their own homes, such as weatherization projects.

Recently, Mayor Richard M. Daley and CEO Ron Huberman announced an overhaul of the district’s career and technical education program. While green jobs are not officially part of the new program, Gibson sees opportunity in areas that are currently part of the district’s career programs: engineering, construction and transportation. Don Fraynd, who worked with Fenger and heads the district’s Office of School Turnarounds, says the idea “sounds great,” but hasn’t read an official proposal about it.

Parents would participate in six hours of training each day and be paid $12.50 per hour. Students would complete two hours of training after school each day, for $9.50 per hour.

Gibson says he chose to go after training for green jobs because it’s a new career area and a good fit for parents and students in lower-performing schools. “They need a hand up, and at the same time, they need to be more involved with their student,” he says. “There’s a lot of despair in these areas and nothing else seems to work. This new green initiative is a real chance.” 

The program would run from eight to 12 weeks and train 30 students and 30 parents from seven schools: Fenger, Carver, Harper, Corliss, Harlan, Julian, and Chicago Vocational.

Gibson has applied to the state for funding, and hopes to also win support from the City of Chicago and CPS. The estimated cost for the program is $1.8 million, which includes pay for parents and students, staff salaries, and project materials. Gibson also hopes to connect the program with other resources such as GED classes and counseling.

Maren Handorf is a writer and former Catalyst intern.