In a lifetime of education, Emma Banks has seen first-hand how important parents getting parents involved is in keeping kids in school.
And if that means keeping parents in school for a few hours a months, that’s what she’ll do.
Banks, the principal of Inlet Grove Community High School in Riviera Beach, is near the beginning of a year-long project to try to create a learning community in her students’ homes to raise test scores and produce students more prepared for college or the responsibilities of working life.
The program, twice monthly Saturday sessions for the parents of students struggling on standardized reading test, started After a lifetime of education experience, Emma Banks knows first-hand how crucial the role of parents is in keeping kids in school.
They’re for kids scoring a Level 1 of the 1-5 scale on the outgoing Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. At Inlet Grove, with a more than 90 percent poor and minority students, that’s about 100 out of about 700 students.
The first of the three-hour classes was Oct. 9, drawing about 70 parents. The last is set for March 15.
The focus is on reading, Banks said, because it’s the starting point for just about every other kind of learning.
NAVIGATE THROUGH LIFE
“Our goal is to help the kids learn how to read,” Banks said. “If you can read, you can navigate through life.
“Reading is the key. Reading will take you through all the subject areas.”
If reading can help kids navigate through life, Banks wants to make sure the home port is secure.
“If you look at kids who can’t read, most of them have issues at home,” Banks said.
That’s where the Saturday reading courses come in.
Taking place from 9 a.m. to noon, the subject matter includes classics of fiction and non-fiction – Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” James McBride’s “The Color of Water – as well as articles on contemporary issues.
They’re the same books students are required to read, Banks said.
And attendance is mandatory for the parents of kids who need the help. If parents are working when the normal Saturday classes are scheduled, Banks will make time for them during the school week.
“I’ll give child care,” she said. “If they need transportation, I’ll send a bus. They really have no reason not to participate.”
THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY
Banks, founder and principal of Inlet Grove, winner of the Urban League of Palm Beach County’s lifetime achievement award in 2010 and named one of the 50 Most Powerful Black Professionals in South Florida by Legacy magazine in 2011, is no stranger to out-of-the-box thinking.
As principal of a charter school in an impoverished section of Riviera Beach, many of the parents she deals with combine hard backgrounds with a firm desire to see their children succeed, said Lonnie Martens, chairwoman of Inlet Grove’s pre-law academy.
“She is an amazing woman,” said Martens, a securities lawyer started teaching at Inlet Grove six years ago. “She wants them to do well. She wants them to do it the old-fashioned way.”
Martens said the results of that “old-fashioned” approach show in the school’s graduation rate, which exceeds 90 percent, and a state grade of “B.” Graduating students, Martens said, must show a letter of acceptance to a college or the military. In other words, that they’re moving forward with the next phase of productive living.
“She doesn’t care what college they show admission to,” Martens said. “She has provided them the means to support themselves if they don’t go to college.”
One of Banks innovations is an alternative-to-suspension program she started for kids with discipline problems that might be signs of something worse down the road.
In the program, the students – and their parents – attend juvenile court for a day, with the students going through a sample of the legal process – such as finger-printing, a stint in a holding cell – to give them and their parents an idea of the kind of trouble they’d rather avoid.
“Put you in cuffs and all,” Banks said.
The point, of course, is to try to make sure those cuffs don’t go on for real.
“They’ll miss a day of school, but it’s a learning opportunity,” Banks said. “If a kid, if they have an education, they won’t get into the trouble they get into.”
But truly serious discipline problems are rare at the school, Martens said. Many of the families are immigrants, and the Inlet Grove student could be the first in the family to even attend high school, she said.
“They’re really serious about helping their kids,” Martens said. “I don’t think this would work in any other school.”
WANT TO SEE SOME GAINS
Because Inlet Grove is a charter school, it attracts students from outside its geographical drawing boundary. Banks said she’s sought out by parents who want to send their child to Inlet Grove instead of their neighborhood school because of the atmosphere it offers.
“They come and tell me, ‘give my child a chance,’” she said.
And those who do send students to Inlet Grove know they and their children will have to follow the rules, or the kids will be out.
Banks said she makes sure parents know that from the beginning.
“I don’t pull punches,” she said. “I tell it like it is. This is the real world now .. Parents have to get involved.”
That involvement will take physical shape at the school every other Saturday until March 15, helping parents to become readers so kids can be better readers, too.
“I want to see some gains,” Banks said. “We’ll see what happens.”
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