Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Parents Working Together for Students

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Parents Working Together for Students

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

When Nikolai Vitti was named superintendent of Duval County Public Schools last year, he told the Times-Union that the most important people he wanted to meet outside of the educational establishment were the parents.

On that choice, he'd get no argument from Michele Stephenson.


Stephenson and her husband, Joe Brewster, recently finished a film titled "American Promise." For 13 years they documented the educational struggles and triumphs of their son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun Summers, at the prestigious Dalton School in Manhattan.

The film, slated to air on PBS early next year, raises questions about the cultural and social barriers that impede black boys' academic success.

As a sixth-grader, Idris is suspended for minor scrapes in school, and his parents ponder why he behaves well at home but only becomes a problem when he's at Dalton.

Seun laments how tough sixth grade is, and Idris wonders aloud if he'd have better luck academically and socially at Dalton if he were white.

But the boys not only survive, they thrive.

Idris graduated from Dalton and now attends Occidental College in Los Angeles. Seun withdrew from Dalton but graduated from Benjamin Banneker Academy in Brooklyn. He now attends State University of New York Fredonia.

And a huge part of the reason why Idris and Seun wound up in college and not on the streets or in prison is because they had help.

Help, that is, in the form of their parents, who struggled with them every step of the way.

In the film, Stephenson and Brewster constantly question recommendations school officials make for Idris, such as when they wanted to put him on hyperactivity medication.

Seun's parents, Tony and Stacey Summers, make sure he stays on task when it comes to study time, and they also meet with other parents in their homes to commiserate and to share insights and answers on what they're encountering in trying to get their boys educated. …

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