As the parent of four children ranging from PreK to college, Sheewana Kerns is all about showing up for her kids at school. At one time, she was on the boards of three different schools. Currently Ms. Kerns serves as one of two parent members on IDEA’s Board of Trustees. Her son Denzel is a senior at IDEA and her daughter Emoni is a sophomore here.
Ms. Kerns herself attended IDEA for a portion of high school and chose to enroll Denzel there because of the school’s small size and structured programs. Since then she has been willing and eager to contribute however she can. “Anything they needed me to do, I did,” she said. “I’ve come in to help prepare Christmas gifts, organize raffle events, help with back to school night and game night. I’m always trying to get people involved with their kids.”
In addition to a variety of volunteer activities, Ms. Kerns values the opportunity to serve on the board because it enables her to understand and share different points of view. “I can find out the children’s point of view, the staff’s point of view, the leadership’s point of view, and I can help them understand each other,” she explained. “When they ask me to speak, I am speaking as a parent and an advocate for my children, and I try to be as helpful and as honest as I can. Most of the teachers are parents, but for those who aren’t I can give them that perspective. And they keep asking for my opinion, so I think that’s helpful.”
“I also speak to my kids about their concerns and I’m able to bring those to the board,” Ms. Kerns said. “Being on the board gives me a direct connection to change—to understand what direction the school needs to go in.”
As a board member Ms. Kerns also works to connect with other parents. “Before the pandemic I would talk to parents as they were driving their kids to or from school and introduce myself and find out their concerns, especially working parents. I wanted to find out if there were reasons why parents weren’t showing up to events and find ways to make it easier for them to attend.”
One suggestion Ms. Kerns offered to IDEA to increase family engagement was to offer small incentives to students (before the pandemic) to encourage them to bring their families to school events. “I thought if we could get kids to bring their parents to events and stand up and speak it would help them become more fluent at public speaking.” She said it was important to note what kind of incentives were meaningful to scholars so they could meet their needs. “One student was using his incentive to buy food and clothes for his brother. When you get families to come to events you can get to know them on a personal level and find out more about what’s going on at home and how to reach their parents and meet kids and parents where they are.”
During this extraordinarily unusual school year, Ms. Kerns is working to make sure that IDEA scholars feel like they’re receiving the best possible education. “My son likes working at home because he focuses better without interruptions and distractions, but my daughter is active and she wants to go back to school in person. I know that online instruction is different than being in the classroom and it may take a while for the teachers and the students to get used to it. I just want to make sure what they’re learning is being retained. My daughter is spending an hour after school going over the material from that day to make sure it’s sticking. I want to make sure teachers are coming back to the kids to make sure they are getting it and school is not just click and go."