Thursday, November 3, 2011

Project Ujima Welcomes SDUSD African American Families for the Third Year

Harris family at event
Project Ujima opened its third year with 60 parents and 45 children at the Tubman Chavez Center in Southeastern San Diego on Thursday, October 13, 2011. Participant reactions during the first few minutes ranged from “first-timer curiosity” to “old-timer” jubilation — all woven together with welcomes, hugs, high fives, and ear-splitting smiles. As program instructors, childcare staff, translators, community members and Center staff bustled about making sure everyone registered, received course materials and settled in for the family style dinner, it was clear that program participants felt they were “returning home” or receiving a warm “first-timers” welcome into the Project Ujima family.

Project Ujima has something for the entire family. The typical program goes like this. After sharing dinner together, parents and children go their separate ways. Children go to supervised childcare that includes educational activities; youth go to the computer lab or designated homework stations to do schoolwork; and parents and community members settle in with

Project Ujima instructors to discuss the evening’s topic. The program ends with closing activities that usually result in parents obtaining educational materials for themselves or their children.
No matter the subject under discussion, seasoned Project Ujima parents walk through the door of the Tubman Chavez Center ready for an interactive learning experience that reaffirms their value as their children’s first teachers and equips them with additional resources to help promote the academic achievement of their children.

 Take the Harris family, for example. Michelle and Corwin came to opening night at Project Ujima prepared to reunite with members of the Project Ujima family and ready to help new participants settle in. In between getting caught up with friends and chatting with instructors, community members and new attendees, Michelle slipped off to the classroom to stake out two seats in the front row. Having participated with her family in Project Ujima’s fieldtrip to USC, Michelle knew the importance of sitting in the “T Zone” — the instructor’s immediate line of vision in the front of the classroom—and she and Corwin not only reminded their children to sit in the “T Zone” in their classes but also modeled this behavior in Project Ujima classes.

The Harris family also modeled being prepared to learn by coming to class armed with a knapsack filled with course materials designed to “let the learning begin.” Mom and Dad were clearly ready for what Michelle gleefully described as “the first day of school for parents.” The knapsack contained, among other things, a Project Ujima binder of course materials and readings from the previous year, pens and pencils, and a stack of credits that had earned them cash for summer learning activities with their children.

But what was opening night like for newcomers? One first-time attendee wasn’t convinced that taking parenting classes was her “cup of tea.” The participant just knew that if Project Ujima really was an opportunity to connect with other grandparents and great-grandparents who found themselves raising school-age children again long after their grown children had moved out of the house, she was “willing to give these parenting classes a try.” While she was somewhat curious about what the instructors could teach her about how to be a more effective parent, she was more interested in spending time with other grandparents and parents who knew what she was going through because “they found themselves in the same place. “ Within minutes, the participant was overheard telling her table-mates that she felt “rejuvenated … [and] welcome here … like family.”

The opening exercise for the October 13th class, advertised as “Project Ujima 101,” revolved around a practice known in the African American community as “Who’s in the House?” or “Who Are Your People?”—a series of questions that enables participants to determine the level of disclosure they want to have with other participants as they get acquainted with each other. Following the opening exercise, participants were introduced to the guiding principles of the program, information on how they could receive computers and internet access for their homes, and information on upcoming classes, as well as information on educational and social resources for parents.

A highlight of the evening was the disclosure by presenter Rachel Evans of the San Diego Futures Foundation that her own mother, an educator in the San Diego Unified School District, was a participant in the class. Rachel’s description of her mother’s role in helping her succeed academically served as a springboard for Rachel to commend all of the Project Ujima parents for “continuing to educate [themselves] about the educational system and ways to promote education in [their] families.” Rachel shared examples of how things her mom stressed to her as a child growing up still informed her adult decision-making and her commitment to giving back to the community through her work with the San Diego Futures Foundation.

Project Ujima is free and open to any parent in the San Diego Unified School District. The next class will be held on Nov. 10, 2011 from 5:30pm (dinner) to 7:30 p.m. at the Tubman Chavez Center, 415 North Euclid Avenue. The topic for the class is “An African American Perspective on Preparing for Parent-Teacher Conferences.”

For more information, visit the program's website.