When Aurelia Twitty joined Bellwether in 2016, we learned about her 20+ years of volunteer service to DC-area schools and her commitment to educational equity. In addition to her role as executive assistant and office manager, she brings a wealth of experience as a parent advocate for education, a Certified Life Coach, and someone who has served with various organizations for over 25 years.
I loved getting the chance to talk to Aurelia about her background and advocacy. Whether as PTA president, member of a charter school Board of Trustees, or Bellwether’s own Operations team member, Aurelia brings energy and passion to everything she does. So much so that she received the top honor at this year’s Bellwether retreat: the Honey Badger Award! (See the photo above for her prize.) The award recognizes “exceptional perseverance and badger-ness marked by exuberant team spirit.”
Read our conversation below (and this Q&A is a great companion to our recent blog series on family engagement, which you can read here!):
You’ve volunteered with schools in the Washington, DC area for over 20 years. Why is it important for you to serve in this way?
I’ve always believed that a student’s chance for success is higher when the student, parents/guardians, and school all work together. I grew up a poor African American child in Washington, DC, and my parents did not invest in my education by visiting my schools or providing me with the at-home assistance I needed. I saw firsthand how my peers outperformed me while I was in elementary and middle school because they had the guidance of their teachers and their parents/guardians.
I made a promise to myself that if I ever had children, I would volunteer at their schools and work with them at home to ensure they had the best chance of success. I have three children — two adult daughters and one son who is a senior in a DC public charter school — and I’m proud to say I kept my promise.
What are the different roles you’ve held over the years?
I started off as a “class mom” when my kids were very young. I have also served as PTA President and Vice President at three different schools, three different times here in DC. I have also assisted students with homework during after school programs, and I was a coach for a well-known girls after school mentoring program, Girls On the Run, for four years. Now I’m a parent representative on the Board of Trustees for a local public charter school. Through my work, it has become clear that many students have the same school experience I had.
What lessons have you learned about how schools can and should engage families?
First of all, clear communication between school and home is vital for the success of children and the school as a whole. In my current role as parent representative, I challenge the school to keep an “open-door policy” for parents/guardians — making school teachers and administrators accessible to parents is imperative. I also urge the school to use many different forms of communication and not just send letters home. Many parents/guardians find it hard to visit their child’s school for meetings or volunteering efforts, and in this day of widespread technology, the use of video chats, emails, and text messages can help to bridge that communication gap.
Another very important lesson I learned is that parents and guardians have power! If you think about it, parents/guardians are the clients of the school. If the clients aren’t happy, nobody’s happy! Student and parental/guardian satisfaction or lack thereof will definitely show in the schools ratings, test scores, and attendance.
What advice do you have for parents with school-age children who struggle to keep up with what’s going on at school?
I have been there, that single mom who didn’t have much free time on her hands — there were many times I couldn’t make it out to meetings. But it is still important to stay as involved as you can in what is going on at your child’s school. You can always send an email to the principal, counselor, or the head of the parent group to voice your opinion and get information. I have seen firsthand how parents can affect the school’s budget and demand changes that directly affect their child’s education in a positive way.
When my children moved from elementary to middle school, the number of volunteers dropped significantly. When they moved from middle school to high school, the numbers dropped even more. It saddens me when I see a significant drop in parent volunteers as students get older. I’ve noticed that both middle and high school students will actually look for my help or come tell me something going on in their lives. While many middle or high schoolers act as if they don’t enjoy having adults around, you’d be surprised at how much they appreciate our presence.
Finally, can you share some success stories from your work in education that you are proud of?
Watching my older daughters volunteer at their children’s school, join the school PTA, and work closely with teachers and school administrators — this gives me joy! Being my children’s best advocate until they learned how to better advocate for themselves is something that I am very proud of. Knowing that I broke the cycle of avoidance when it comes to my children’s education is a victory for me.
And to top it all off, working at Bellwether is like a dream come true! It is as if I am watching my passion come full circle. I grew up as a child without a parent advocate, became a parent that advocates for my children and other children, and now work for an organization where the main focus is to ensure that education organizations become more effective and achieve great results, especially for our poor and underserved students. That to me is what I call “walking in your passion” — it makes me very proud!