Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of Detroit Parent Network

arents play a pretty big role in their child's education. They are advocates and a voice for their children, explains Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of Detroit Parent Network, a parent advocacy group in the city.

"Parents are really key to solving the education crisis that we have," she says.

In order to do that, though, parents need to be empowered, encouraged and supported. That's where Buckman and her team at DPN are working to help, offering workshops, partnering with schools to provide Parent Resource Centers and even running support groups for the city's moms, dads and primary caregivers.

Before her gig at DPN, Buckman was working with parents at the Warren/Conner Development Coalition, where she met Tonya Allen, now the president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. Allen, who founded DPN, needed somebody familiar with the line of work to take over DPN when she left for Skillman. In came Buckman.

"I've dedicated almost a decade of my life here now, and I'm very proud of the work that we've done together with parents in this space," Buckman says of DPN.


Part of the organization's mission is helping parents "just to be better parents," she notes. To that effort, parents can sign up for DPN's parenting classes and training on subjects like helping with homework.

In the schools, DPN is reaching a huge number of parents, serving about 30,000 across its Parent Resource Centers located in select schools throughout the city, she says. Inside, parents can use computers, relax and chat with teachers, get in touch with support services, pick up food supplements and take part in workshops. Buckman says the idea was if DPN provided parents with the services and support they needed at the school, they could also get parents to focus on their kids' education.

"That strategy has worked well," she says. DPN even worked with Detroit Public Schools to open a center specifically for parents of kids with special needs. "We spend a lot of time thinking about what would be helpful for parents," she explains.

Helping parents also means working with schools to listen to parents. "Recognizing parents are partners is a big part of it," she says, emphasizing that parents have a lot to offer schools.

It can also be challenging for parents to "navigate this education landscape," as Buckman puts it. So DPN is there for that, too, she adds, keeping an eye on education policy in Lansing and informing parents of that, thus cultivating conversations and helping them to engage with it.

As the name implies, DPN is a network, helping parents to connect with other parents and find the support and resources they need.

As for overall impact? "I think that parents have a seat and a voice at the table more so because DPN exists," Buckman says. And while there's still work to be done, she notes, "I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish with parents."

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