Mom Congress 2012

What happens when you bring close to 150 type A women together dedicated to transforming the world they live in to build a better future? You get Mom Congress, year three.

Once we had our moments of reconnection (although many of us have been able to connect in the past year in DC meeting with the Department of  Education and at other events), we made our way over to Georgetown University for an opening reception and ice breaker lead by the fabulous team at Kimochis. Many of us have built great friendships with Nina, Susan, and Ellen of Kimochis and have connected with the ideas they present for social emotional learning and creating a community of care. For those of us in the audience, the presentation was a fantastic way of acknowledging our own different communication and learning styles so we can better collaborate with each other in the days ahead.

Certainly the energy and enthusiasm was contagious. I doubt many of us got any sleep that night even though the schedule stated clearly 7 am shuttle bus to the National Press Club. Much coffee was needed that Monday morning as we had all stayed up the night before discussing how we were going to transform the educational reform landscape one mom at a time.

So here's a quick breakdown of the two day event:

Panel discussion with Rehema Ellis (NBC News Chief, Education), Bonnie DeLong (2010), Betsy Tull Landers (PTA), Sean Slade (ASCD), Susan Stiffleman (author), Heather Harding (Teach for America), and  Lily Eskelsen (NEA).  Over and over again the members of this panel reminded us that parents need to be persistent and find the best avenues in which to communicate. That by doing our research and by educating ourselves we will be better able to support our school community. That teachers need more professional development on how to communicate with parents, that we have to shift the way we think about communication and build positive relationships. As Sean Slade said, "if you want something sustainable, you need to bring all the partners together. There is always time for change. And change begins with one step."

We must also stop pointing fingers of blame. Parents should be more receptive to make those connections as well and to enhance the community of learning. One great way to get involved? Thank a teacher via Parenting magazine's "Thank you to my amazing teacher" video commentary. Saying thank you can make a huge difference in someones day. But we also need to acknowledge that there is still a disconnect between our families and schools. The results from the NEA-Parenting magazine survey show that we still have much work to do to build better communities of learning and connection for our families and students. Knowing that there is a gap means we can now work together to close it. I believe the women of Mom Congress are up for that challenge. Are you?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also made a return appearance and you can read his remarks here: Address to Mom Congress 2012 and here Duncan talks Obama education record at Mom Congress. My takeaway from his speech is that, again, we must be working together in order to educate every child. If our budget reflects our values then it is obvious we are moving in the wrong direction. As we know, no parent wants to put a limit on what their child can do or learn. We must support our teachers, and help create great teachers, and parents must do their part as well. Certainly when it comes to funding (and yes, we need to double the Title I funding stream) we also need to be funding what's working, because what looks good on paper doesn't necessarily look the same when practiced.

Certainly for the last few years I have encouraged parents to be more educated about education policy. What decisions are made in DC and what policies are implemented or encouraged by the Department of Education will have an impact, in some way, shape, or form, on state and local decision making. Whether it's budgetary or about methodology, there is going to be a connection.

with Mark Shriver, of Save the Children
Recently I've become connected to the work that RESULTS is doing in communities all over the nation to address poverty issues. So when Mark Shriver, of Save the Children made his presentation, the statistics weren't anything new or groundbreaking. We know we must invest in early childhood education and if our elected leaders are balancing the budgets on the backs of children, then we need to get to their offices and ask them "why?" We also know that when 1 in 4 children live in poverty, that will impact educational attainment (as children in poverty are about 18 months behind other children and if they aren't reading on grade level by third grade it is almost impossible for them to catch up). I would like Mark Shriver to come back to Mom Congress 2013 and say "We did it! We eliminated poverty!" Advocacy can make a difference, and we must hold everyone accountable. 

Sam Kass, White House Chef, Let's Move, Bob Lanier, Darrell Hammond KaBOOM!, all spoke about the importance of good, nutritional choices (whether at home or at school) and physical fitness/activity (whether organized via physical education or thru recess and the use of playgrounds).

Byron Garrett returned to Mom Congress for another great keynote about parent/family engagement in education. As part of his presentation he announced the forming of a new non-profit, the National Family Engagement Alliance, of which I (along with fellow Mom Congress delegate Gwen Samuels) have been named as regional directors. We are all excited to add another voice to the choir and advocate on behalf of children in our communities. The National Family Engagement Alliance (NFEA) is an alliance of individuals, families and organizations committed to transforming education through meaningful family engagement. NFEA is a catalyst for providing resources and support to educate, equip and mobilize individuals, families and organizations with an emphasis on increasing student achievement, especially those in under-served and under-represented communities. It was great to get a shout out for this launch by Michele Molnar of Ed Week and we all look forward to the official launch on June 1st. And yes, Byron wrapped up his keynote with the ever popular "ABCs."

And certainly presentations from Green Schools, MADD, Jumpstart, Jen Barth, Volunteer Spot, Harlem RBI generated many discussions as well, as parents in the audience know the importance of community connectivity, whether local, national or now international (via Shot@Life which I have written about extensively and am an active Champion advocate for). Fellow delegates (and Shot@Life Champions) Lyssa Sahadevan, Felisa Hilbert, and Marilyn Zaragoza joined Devi Thomas (of the UN Foundation) to talk about the importance of global vaccinations as we all know that "germs have no passport." Felisa's heartfelt plea was that the attendees help give 1000 shots at life by mother's day, a goal we can certainly achieve.

I was honored to present about the importance of social media along with fellow delegates Jerri Ann Reason and Melissa Taylor and moderated by Janice D'Arcy (Washington Post) who wrote in advance of the event about what she was expecting to participate in: Mom Congress Convenes in DC what do you call an activist who happens to be a Mother.

With Jen Barth, Aaron Sherinian (UNF), Devi Thomas (Shot@Life),and Lyssa Sahadevan

The conference wrapped up with presentations by Earl Phalen (Reach out and Read) and Aaron Sherinian (UNFoundation) about leveraging your message and sharing your story with the media to promote your cause. Attendees then worked with fellow delegate Angela Fielder about focusing on our mission and vision and how to stay motivated and continue to act. 
But you don't have to just take my "take" on it. Many of the attendees have written about their experiences, and I encourage you to read about their experiences and share their stories with others in your community:

Parenting magazine 

Julie Bergen (NY 2012) NYS Mom Congress
Melissa Bilash (PA 2010) Mom Congress 2012
Jenn Crockett (KY 2012) Lexington mom represents Kentucky at Parenting magazine’s Mom Congress in D.C.
Kate Fineske (OH 2012) The Materialization of a Dream
Lori Harding (UT 2010) Utah Mom - Strength in Numbers
Lyssa Sahadevan  (AL 2011) Mom Congress 2012 "Tweet Style"
Jeanetta Tanafranca (MI 2012) 'Superstar Volunteer' Jeanette Tanafranca Fosters Diversity at Troy's Bemis Elementary

This is definitely a group of women, of advocates, of concerned community members who believe to the core of their being that by working together they can transform education, eliminate poverty, address health and wellness issues (whether school lunches or bullying) in not only their communities, but in this nation. Each and everyone of them lives by this motto:

"I am only one; but still I am one. 
I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; 
and because I cannot do everything, 
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." (Hale)

It's good to know that working together we CAN make a significant difference. Mama Saxa Mom Congress!


  1. Wonderful recap Myrdin! And what a wonderful, amazing group of women to meet, connect with and learn from!

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