Accountability · Educational Equity · Finding the Right School · School Choice

Is Parental Engagement Necessary For a Child’s School Success? A Personal Story.

Celia Scott Wickham wasn’t just an HHLA board member. She was also my mother-in-law.

On Friday, February 16, 2018, Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School (for those tracking such things, one of NYC’s most diverse public schools at 36 percent White, 30 percent Black, 29 percent Hispanic) dedicated the day to celebrating their neighborhood.

Classrooms were transformed into the Apollo Theater, Lenox Lounge, urban and suburban Harlem, complete with the train that originally ran through it. Students celebrated the various waves of immigrants who took turns settling in Harlem and made historical presentations.

In the multipurpose room, with live music playing, children moved from station to station, getting their faux passports stamped for trying local foods, and learning about various healthy habits and practices.

In one corner, before a giant white cardboard heart covered in pink, yellow and blue sticky notes, was a table set up with stickers and markers. It announced the September 2018 launch of Celia’s Fund.

Celia Scott Wickham was a founding board member of HHLA, who passed away just prior to Thanksgiving 2017.

Celia’s Fund will be supported via a Caregiver Pledge, wherein the goal is to have every HHLA student matched with a parent or other interested adult who will publicly commit to supporting their academic journey, whether by attending a school event, helping the child with their homework, chairing a committee, joining the Parent/Teacher Organization, attending a meeting, or anything else they deem necessary.

The pledge will come with a financial donation of as little as $1 or more, to create a principal’s discretionary fund to help children and families as she sees fit.

HHLA Principal  Lindsay Malanga elaborated,

Founding board member Celia Wickham was tirelessly devoted to the building of Harlem Hebrew and one of her top priorities that we continue to reinforce, is ensuring all families feel welcomed in our schools. To achieve this, we offer parents many opportunities to participate in our school community – by volunteering, chaperoning a school trip, or attending an event. As a diverse by design school, Harlem Hebrew has parents from many different cultures and walks of life. As such, parental involvement is encouraged to build a strong community where all cultures are embraced and celebrated. Harlem Hebrew holds various events and meetings for parents to come together and have their voices heard, including our monthly Diversity Talk series, a monthly coffee chat with the Head of School and regular Family Fun days. To accommodate parents of all faiths, we hold these meetings on different days and times of the week, so all are able to participate. Furthermore, research shows that strong parent-school partnership boosts school morale and contributes to student success.

But Celia Scott Wickham wasn’t just an HHLA board member. She was also my mother-in-law.

Let me tell you a little something about Celia Wickham:

In the 1970s, Celia Wickham was living in Harlem, the mother of three young children. She found the local public schools unacceptable. (Her husband had migrated up from Virgina, and still lamented losing the all-Black schools of his youth to integration. Find out why here.)

Unwilling to accept status quo, she battled to get her daughter and youngest son into Hunter College Elementary, the state-funded school for the gifted that even parents who swear they will only send their children to public schools are willing to make an exception for, as well as spend thousands of dollars on test prep.

This even after the woman who tested her son for admission asked, genuinely perplexed, “How can a child like this know so much?”

“He watches a lot of Sesame Street,” Celia snapped.

Celia was involved in her children’s education, and, after they grew up, in the education of thousands of other NYC children. She was a Boy Scout troop leader for many Harlem youngsters, including William Anthony Allen, now a NY Democratic District Leader. She served on Community Boards and School boards, and as Chair of Community Directed Ownership, a community empowerment organization.

When my husband complains I do too much, I tell him it’s not my fault he married his mother. And when my children complain that I’m too involved in their education – and the education of NYC’s 1.1 million school children, I tell them to… blame their grandmother.

My own parents cared about my education. But since we didn’t arrive in the US until 1977, they simply didn’t have the resources or the knowledge that Celia did.

Forty-one years later, other families don’t yet know exactly what they can do for their children when it comes to school engagement, or the benefits of involvement.

Starting in September 2018 at HHLA, Celia Scott Wickham’s legacy will be there to help.


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