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October 25, 2001 Parents learn community skills



Asma Nemer and her two sons

Asma Nemer, with her two sons

Photo by Michel Mercé

by Austin Webb

There was a sense of accomplishment in the air as smiling parents gathered with their children, trainers and Rector Frederick Lowy for a group photo in the University Senate Chamber on Oct. 17.

The occasion was the presentation of certificates to parents who attended the Institute in Management and Community Development’s Summer Program last June.

The Program, which will celebrate its 10th year in 2002, provides an opportunity for parents from disenfranchised and predominately immigrant neighborhoods to explore how they can become involved in their communities.

The Institute, which is part of the Centre for Continuing Education, collaborates with community groups. More than 850 volunteers, workers, students and other citizens attend the summer training program, including about 50 parents invited through Montreal’s Third Avenue Resource Centre.

Like most of the parents attending the evening ceremony, Asma Nemer said the program helped her understand the city’s public school system and get involved with the education of her two sons, aged 4 and 7.

She arrived from Algeria last February not knowing much about Montreal’s schools and what role parents can play in them. “I encourage every parent to take part in the Program,” she said. “It’s so important for parents to come up with their own ideas for education. After all, we are closer to our kids.”

Dr. Lowy, on hand to present each parent with a certificate, agreed. “Education is not something you leave solely to the teachers in the classrooms,” he said afterwards.

Helping them to participate effectively is one of the Program’s primary goals, said program coordinator Mireille Landry.

“There are seats reserved for parents on the schools’ governing boards, but it is difficult for them to have a voice — newly arrived parents especially,” she said. “At the Summer Program, parents can discuss the obstacles they face, and build new skills.”

Back to the classroom

Nour Kassis moved here from Syria two years ago. In Syria, she studied fine arts, but here, she found it difficult to become engaged in the schooling of her three children. With the help of her son Alfred, she explained how the Summer Program changed all that by helping her participate in decision-making for Alfred’s Villeray elementary school.

“It was like a dream come true,” she said of the chance to get back to the classroom and learn again.

At the ceremony, Landry drew attention to what can be achieved when determined parents get together. She singled out a group of parents from Côte des Neiges who succeeded in getting a new school built in their crowded district.

Danielle Landry, Third Avenue Resource Centre coordinator, was adamant about how parents should approach community activism: “Parents can have access to the school system, but so often, it’s organized in a way that inhibits them from questioning how decisions are made. Here, they have the opportunity to be critics.”