For more than five years, the district’s Project Ujima parent program has been engaging African-American families in culturally-focused workshops, providing free resources to parents to help their students improve academically.
Named for the Kwanzaa principle of collective work and responsibility, Project Ujima workshops offer lessons on academics, as well as African-American culture and history.
“We have seen so many of our parents that started in Project Ujima that had never gone to a School Site Council meeting or District Advisory Council meeting or Board of Education meeting. They didn’t know how to support their child,” said Program Manager Elneda Shannon. “Some of these parents are now in leadership roles and their children are doing well. We have parents that never had any type of homework structure in their home and now recognize what their kids need to do, started a routine and their children are succeeding. And we have total proof of that with this program,” Shannon said.
To help busy families participate, the program often provides free childcare, homework stations and dinner. Spanish translation is also available.
The program’s all-important goal is to improve student academic success, but it provides parents with much more. It facilitates stronger partnerships and resource sharing between parents, students and the district to promote a productive learning environment for students. It also encourages stronger family involvement and provides programs that respect, value and validate the African-American culture.
Shannon and her key instructors, who are African-American, facilitate classes such as “Understanding the Common Core State Standards” and “Preparing African-American students for Career and College.”
The program comes from an African-American perspective, but all parents are welcome to participate.
“We have a diverse group of parents that are involved in Ujima because the information is good for all parents and for all students,” Shannon said.
Project Ujima is one of several culturally-focused programs offered by the Parent Outreach and Engagement Department. Project Ujima’s success led to the creation of other culturally-focused programs for American Indian and Southeast Asian parent communities. These programs complement other department programs such as Raising A Reader, Parent University and Computers on the Go.
“We want to make sure that parents have good information, good skills and good techniques on how they can help their children do well academically, and that’s what all of our programs are about,” Shannon said. “Our goal is the same: a successful student outcome and building parent leaders.”
Shannon hears from both parents and students that the program has been helpful.
“I know it’s successful when parents keep coming back and when parents share with other parents what has helped them,” Shannon said. “I know it’s successful when I have a parent come in and say ‘look at this report card’ or a student will come and tell me ‘I just passed my CAHSEE and I didn’t think I was going to.’
“I tell parents that you don’t have to know how to do your child’s homework, all you have to do is be there, be supportive and set the rules for your household.”
Project Ujima hosts monthly workshops and provides teachers with educational materials relating to African-American history and culture. In celebration of Black History Month, the department is hosting two events. The first is a screening of the play “The Montford Point Marines of San Diego – Legacies of Pride” on Feb. 12. The second is a lesson on genealogy called “Discovering Your Roots,” on Feb. 26 hosted by district staffer and genealogy expert Marti Lewis.
“Legacies of Pride” is a true story about the experiences of the original Montford Point Marines in the 1940s. They were the first African-Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps. The one-act play depicting some of their experiences was written by Project Ujima parents, students and community members.
The Montford Point project was grant-funded, as are many of the special projects and field trips coordinated by the staff at Project Ujima.
Students and parents have participated in college tours to USC, UC San Diego and San Diego State, as well as field trips to Campo, home of local Buffalo Soldiers, and to Julian, which unbeknownst to many, has a rich African-American history.
A separate grant funded a parent mentor program in which parents, who have been part of the Project Ujima program and support the Parent Outreach and Engagement’s mission, work with other parents to get them involved. The mentor program was piloted successfully with Project Ujima so the department recently launched it as part of the American Indian program.
For parents or guardians that want to get involved, Shannon says the best thing to do is just come to one of the workshops or events.
“I know that African-American parents care about their children and they care about education,” Shannon said. “I am an African-American parent and grandparent so I know that parents care and that they want their children to do well.”
For more information about Project Ujima, contact Program Manager Elneda Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-291-4431.