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Empowering families: Helping parents navigate the school search process

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LaTricia Smallwood’s mind filled with questions as she joined parents inside
Beginning Futures Early Childhood Center in St. Louis’s Walnut Park neighborhood. 

 It was time to start thinking about kindergarten. But first, Smallwood wanted to better understand St. Louis’s education system – with its four types of schools, differing application processes, and menus of academic options that can vary by building.

Anna-Stacia Allen demonstrates how to search for schools
Anna-Stacia Allen demonstrates how to research schools.

“I’m not sure where to begin,” Smallwood said.

It’s a feeling that Anna-Stacia Allen, executive director of Navigate STL Schools, sees in many parents and caregivers as they begin thinking about enrollment. After all, there are more than 150 schools in the city alone, she told the group. Of those, approximately 78 offer kindergarten.   

“Figuring out what to do, how to do it, when to enroll – we want to make that process easier for you,” she said.

Empowering parents 

Navigate STL Schools is a nonprofit that puts parents in the driver’s seat by providing them with data-based information about schools in an online and searchable format. It also provides access to guides that help with problem-solving and making meaning of the data. The Opportunity Trust incubated and supports Navigate STL Schools to help parents make informed decisions about their children’s education. 

Parents sitting in a classroom.
Parents listen to the Navigate STL Schools presentation.

For the next 30 minutes, Allen stood at a white board and demonstrated how to use the School Search Tool on navigatestlschools.org. She narrowed down options by selecting priorities suggested by parents in the room: before and after care, bus transportation, small class sizes, and areas of academic focus. She also showed how to find a school’s demographics, its standardized test scores, student growth numbers, and specialized academic offerings.

“Are you interested in searching traditional public, magnet-choice, charter public, or private schools?” Allen asked. 

“Magnet-choice,” one woman said. 

“Charter public,” another answered.  

 Over the next hour, Allen showed both. 

“We’re never going to tell you where to go,” Allen told them. “It’s really to make sure you feel good about where your kid is going and how to advocate for what they need.”

Finding the best fit

Woman with Navigate STL helps parent find information.
Carmen Ward of Navigate STL Schools talks with a parent.

The Opportunity Trust organized the event to connect  parents and caregivers who have questions about the enrollment process with Navigate STL Schools. Beginning Futures is part of the  STL PreK Cooperative, a recipient of seed funding and ongoing support from the Opportunity Trust, which considers expanding access to quality pre-K a strategy to building a strong foundation for later success in school.

“It’s important for us to help our parents understand the different options they have to choose from to meet their child’s educational needs,” said Rochelle Bea, executive director of Beginning Futures. Bea’s passion for early childhood education grew from her experience as a mother, trying to navigate St. Louis’s public education system. She works to provide parents with the information they need to help their children thrive. 

After the presentation, Allen encouraged parents to visit the schools. School navigators would be calling the parents and caregivers in the room over the next week to offer any support.  

Andrea Moore, a mother, said she welcomed it. Patricia Goodrich, a grandmother, tucked a few pages of notes into her purse. “It’s good information,” she said. “I’m a grandma, and I’m trying to help my daughter. I wrote down everything.” 

Smallwood looked through her tote bag from Navigate STL Schools, which included books donated by St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature, as well as how to connect with school navigators. In addition to looking for a school for her preschool-aged daughter, Smallwood is looking for a new middle school for her older daughter.  

“Where she is now isn’t working out,” Smallwood said. “I didn’t know how or where to find someplace better. But this has been really helpful. I’ll start looking tonight.” 

 

The Opportunity Trust invests in educators and school systems eager to build the capacity required to make significant and measurable change.

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