Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education
A middle schooler walks by a Black History Month display on her way to class.

At the first parent meeting of the year at my daughter’s elementary school, there was a noticeable absence of activities planned for Black History Month, so I, seemingly the only Black parent in the room, raised my hand to ask how we were going to celebrate and affirm the presence of Black students and staff in our school.

The response was enthusiastic, but still gave me pause: The consensus was that I should come to the next meeting with an idea of an event I would like to see during Black History Month. Isn’t there a better way in which parent groups, schools and our educational system at large can engage our students and parents while honoring the contributions of Black Americans within K-12 institutions?

Fostering family and community engagement is an essential feature of the California Multi-tiered System of Support (CAMTSS), the framework adopted to meet the needs of all students throughout the state. Following the multi-tiered system of support framework yields improvement in outcomes such as grades, attendance and behavior.  One important way to foster this engagement is by recognizing the cultural heritage and history of the students within the school.

I am not only a parent; I am also an educator, specifically, a school counselor. There is no end to the creative ways — during the school day and after school, virtual and in-person — in which we can welcome parents and students in celebrating culture, representation and inclusivity.

For example, as an adviser for a club called Umoja (a Kiswahili term for unity), I collaborated with a teacher to bring high school students from our school to one of the feeder elementary schools. Many of my students were alumni of the elementary school and felt a strong connection with its students and staff. They seized the opportunity to share their culture through dance and song and served to enrich the cultural experience not only for Black students but for all those who witnessed the unabashed expression of their heritage.

A schoolwide assembly where students share their ideas and creativity is another way to increase involvement. In my high school, students held such an assembly for Black History Month by singing the Black national anthem, performing original spoken-word pieces on the topic of culture, donning African apparel and educating attendees on the significance of this clothing. They leveraged the talents and skills they learned in many of the electives and extracurricular activities on campus as a means of illuminating their Blackness and appreciation for their identity. Parents donated treats for these student volunteers to support their efforts.

Schools can and should do more to encourage families to take part in celebrations of culture, reinforcing their connection to the school in the process.

First, schools and educators should adopt an asset-based approach and work in collaboration with their diverse student populations, especially those that are underrepresented, to elevate their voices and presence within the school community. They can reach out to families via email, applications like Parent Square or through their student information system, to inform parents and guardians of events they are hosting.

Next, school leadership can conduct an annual survey asking what cultural celebrations are observed by their students’ families and how this can be reinforced at the school. The inquiry could be distributed to all parents and the feedback can serve as a reservoir of data for future commemorative events.

In the case of my daughter’s school, I solicited another parent to work with me on my proposed project. Together, we coordinated the first Black History Month event at the school in this rural town in Southern California. Several of the students thanked us for engaging them and responded favorably to the historical facts shared. The occasion sparked curiosity and inquiry from my daughter, who asked me more about her culture and background. I expressed to her the significance of being a change agent in school as a student, parent or educator.

My dual perspective as a parent and educator challenges me to be more present with my own daughter, but it also compels me to be even more vigilant as an educational leader. I endeavor to be the change I want to see for Black students and for all my students as they continue to pursue their education. While I see room for progress, I am encouraged to know I have colleagues and students who maintain hope that schools will continue to become more inclusive and diverse.

Moving forward, I hope my daughter’s school utilizes some of the practices above to champion student achievement. My desire is that they adopt an innovative and culturally astute approach to invite parents or guardians to celebrate their cultural identity. When this happens, I have seen an increase in student and parent participation and collaboration.

As educational leaders, we should always be seeking ways to ensure community and connectedness between the school and home. As a parent, I’m here to help build that bridge and invite colleagues and schools to commit to building community. I encourage other parents and guardians to reach out to their schools and be involved in this process there.


Noaveyar Lee is the school counseling coordinator at the Orange County Department of Education and a 2022-23 Teach Plus California policy fellow.

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  1. Kristen Brown 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you for sharing your journey to create a couple wonderful learning opportunities for Black History Month. Appreciate engaging high school students in returning to their elementary schools with their cultural celebration. The fact that your daughter grew more inquisitive about her cultural history said it all! Wonderful.


    • Noaveyar Lee 1 month ago1 month ago

      Thank you for reading! It really is important that we utilize our platform and talents in whatever capacity–educator, parent, community member, etc.