What do hot dogs have to do with educational justice?

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer wondering, “What could grilled hot dogs and lemonade possibly have to do with educational justice?”

 Kevin, a dad a St. Mary's, volunteered his outdoor catering company to grill for the BBQ.

Kevin, a dad a St. Mary's, volunteered his outdoor catering company to grill for the BBQ.

This summer, for the first time ever, B-SAFE hosted family BBQs at each of our six sites. As young people made a squirming line to get picked up, parents signed them out, grabbed their hands, and made their way over to tables piled with hot dogs, hamburgers, and tasty sides. Each site had its own feel: at Holy Spirit in Mattapan, the Site Director, Kennell, asked parents what the saying, “It takes a village” meant to them and asked them what they wanted from B-SAFE in the future. At St. Luke’s in Chelsea, the Site Director, Mauryn, used the time to assuage parents’ nerves about sending their middle-schoolers to New Hampshire for a week. At St. Mary’s in Dorchester, a parent leader in our Parent Organizing Group spoke to other parents about her experience, telling them that from the first time she walked in, she was greeted with “a smile and a community.”

One thing was clear: this works. Parents are notoriously busy, and yet when we took a chance on planning a family event, they wanted to be there. They wanted to get to know one another, they wanted to meet with their children’s counselors, and they wanted to chat with the Site Directors. Family engagement is an important part of our work at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, and if this is our first year doing BBQs, just imagine the possibilities for next year!

 Parents receive certificates after completing a series of workshops in partnership with Families First.

Parents receive certificates after completing a series of workshops in partnership with Families First.

It also became clear that the relationships parents build with one another are the real reason they show up. This summer, we offered a second series of Parenting Workshops at our South End site in collaboration with Families First. Parents shared their struggles and successes, laughed together, and problem-solved with one another. While many of the parents there had been part of our Parent Organizing Group during the school year, some had not. When one mom heard the others talking about our group, she turned to me, and said, “Why haven’t I been invited yet? I want to come next year!”

The relationships that come from parent engagement efforts like BBQs and parenting workshops are strengthening our Parent Organizing Group and giving us more power as we tackle bigger questions of educational justice like school safety, parent voice, and fully funded public schools.

 A young person appreciates his mom at a family BBQ.

A young person appreciates his mom at a family BBQ.

Our final BBQ took place at St. Stephen’s during the last week of program. As I hopped from table to table meeting new parents and hi-fiving kids, I looked over and saw a group of parents that had met through our parent organizing group this year deep in conversation. But it wasn’t just them, they were sitting with parents who had attended the workshops this summer, and parents I’d never even met before. This is how we build community, and community is how we’ll organize for educational justice.

By Ariel Branz, Parent Organizer

Ariel organizes parents at St. Stephen's Youth Programs and is excited about all the fun family engagement planned for the summer. She likes hiking, cats, sweet potatoes, and summertime.