Since 2018, Parent Villages has worked to improve the quality of education for students and families throughout western Massachusetts.  

Through monthly meetups, special programming, and community partnerships, the organization builds bridges between parents, students, and educators to ensure that their needs are met and exceeded. 

Zydalis Bauer spoke with LaTonia Monroe Naylor, co-founder and President and CEO of Parent Villages, to learn more about how the organization began and the resources that it offers for local families.  

This interview originally aired on May 26, 2022.

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Since 2018, Parent Villages has been on a mission to improve the quality of education for students and families throughout Western Massachusetts. Through monthly meetups, special programing, and community partnerships the organization builds bridges between parents, students, and educators to ensure that their needs are met and exceeded.

I spoke with LaTonia Monroe Naylor, co-founder and president and CEO of Parent Villages, to learn more about how the organization began and the resources that it offers.

LaTonia Monroe Naylor, Parent Villages: It’s very interesting. I try not to cry when I tell the story, but when I was first involved in the school committee, I was I was sitting in a meeting and there was a report done. And one of the ladies talked about kindergarten readiness and preparedness. And she said, 7% of our kids were ready for kindergarten.

And I waited and waited and was really focused on that for the whole entire time she was doing her report. And at the end, I asked, you know, “Did you say seven or 70?”

And she said, “Seven.”

And I said, “So, 93% of our kids are not ready for kindergarten?”

And she said, “Yeah.”

And I was so, like, dumbfounded. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that and why that was the case. And so, when I went back and talked to the other women that co-founded Parent Villages, with me, Cyndi Gaynor-Harper, Paige Monroe and Aiyanna Crawford.

I told them what happened and I said, “We have to do something about it.”

And we thought about all these ideas. And then I said, “Well, why don’t we name it Parent Villages?”

And that’s kind of where we started with going out, educating the community, and trying to do our best to make sure that we can bring resources to families that don’t know how to access them or where to go.

Zydalis Bauer: So, speaking of your name, Parent Villages, your motto is “It still takes a village.”

So, what are some of the partnerships that you have in place that form your village? And what are the resources that they offer?

LaTonia Monroe Naylor: We have so many partners. As a matter of fact, our website needs to be updated because we have more. So, Baystate Health is one of our larger partners. Springfield Works is another partner that we have. The Springfield Public Schools is always interacting with us and working alongside us.

Statewide, we are involved in in MEEP, which is the Mass Education for Equity Partnerships, Strategies for Children. The list goes on. There’s just so many different groups that we work with, depending on what the issue is, depending on what the concern is.

The reality is that education isn’t just about what happens in a classroom for our children. Education extends beyond that. And so we believe that in order to support our kids, we have to support the parents and those that care for them.

So ,providing two generational programs and access to those opportunities are extremely important.

Zydalis Bauer: And that brings me to my next question, because I love that aspect of the program. It really supports the students, but the adults and the caregivers.

Tell me about the impact that family engagement has on a child’s education.

LaTonia Monroe Naylor: Family engagement is huge, right? If you find a school that’s a level one school that — a school that’s succeeding, you’re going to find a school that highly engages their family. Statistics prove it. They show it.

One of our partners, the Davis Foundation, was very involved in Reading Success by Fourth Grade and actually founded that. And so we’ve worked alongside them as well — and still do continue to work alongside with them — trying to not only say “Here, let’s get a book in the hand of a child,” but also let’s encourage the parent to read to the child and understand why is that necessary, right?

So, that’s a very clear example of why engagement with family is important. And again, not just in a classroom, outside of the classroom as well.

Zydalis Bauer: Well, and I know that I was reading on your website, which I thought was interesting, you encouraged parents showing up in the good times and the bad times.

Why does that matter as well?

LaTonia Monroe Naylor: So, a funny story. My daughter, one of my daughters, I have four children of my own and they’re all in the public schools here in the city. And one of my daughters was not doing well in school.

And I said to her, “If you have me come up to that school one more time, I’m going to have a T-shirt on with your name on it.” And she didn’t believe me, so she acted up one more time. And I went to the school and I had a shirt that said “show up” and it had her name on it. And so that was the beginning of the #showup initiative was like, “parents show up.”

But we also wanted to remind them like, don’t just show up when your child is acting up. Like you got to show up to the games, you have to show up to the talent shows or whatever those things are. And sometimes the kids will say to you, “It’s no big deal. You don’t have to come.” But you got to show up anyways because it really makes a difference for them to know that they have a team and they have their village that’s always going to be there to look out for them.

Zydalis Bauer: And I know that part of your mission is to close the gap that children have in these communities where they feel that they can’t go beyond what they are seeing.

So, tell me about some more programs that you have in place that is expanding their vision to their futures?

LaTonia Monroe Naylor: Yeah. So one of our partners happens to be the Department of Conservation and Recreational Services for the State. And last year we piloted a summer nights program to where we started our Village Builder program for our young people. This year we are also going to do that program again, so we’re super excited. We’ll be partnering with Dugan Academy to host it there.

And the reality of it is this, if you give kids the tools that they need, regardless of whether or not they realize that they need them, or you sharpen the skills that they have that they don’t realize, yes, you’re being a class clown in class, but it’s because you’re bold, it’s because you’re creative, it’s because you’re funny, you — you have this unique ability to attract attention, like use that to your leverage.

And so we teach them in those classes — they’re very interactive, they’re very fun and engaging — how to create music or how to write or how to do adulting and write a check, because a lot of them don’t know how to write a check, right? A lot of adults don’t know how to write checks. So, we teach them these fundamentals, but we do it in such a fun way.

And and it just allows them to see beyond their walls that they had built around them, because maybe the community that they grow up in, because of maybe the trauma that they’ve experienced at home, they didn’t realize that that they have all this potential and greatness in them. And so we help to show them that. And it’s super exciting!

Zydalis Bauer: And let’s talk a little bit more about the students. I want to highlight a lot of the work that you guys do. So, from workshops to scholarships, you have shown up for families and students in many ways. I know last year you were giving out free laptops to families. Your Education Matters programs gives out scholarships to many students.

So, tell me another moment of impact that has really stuck with you and reminded you of why you do the work that you do?

LaTonia Monroe Naylor: We had a student who came into our program and he was — he’s on the spectrum. I’m not sure where because I’m not a doctor, but he was on the spectrum and his mother was very concerned about whether or not he’d be able to stay in the program. And he came in and the first day was kind of trying because we were like, “Okay, we’re gonna be patient with him, we want him to get to feel the surrounding.”

But I tell you, by the third time he came in, he was talking to the young people. By the time we ended the program, he was just so outspoken. He was so well-loved. The kids were talking to him. He was talking to the kids. He wasn’t hiding in the background anymore. He was engaged.

And his mother contacted me and actually spoke at our event last year. She got up and like gave her testimonial. We didn’t expect her to say all these great things, but she said, you know, I didn’t believe my son was going to last here. And because I was nervous, you know, he’d been in COVID for two years and isolated, but he just so well and not only did he do well, he’s excited to be here and he wants to come back when you have this program again. And it’s like, that was so awesome!

And I seen him in the community and he’s like, “Hi, Mrs. Naylor!” And I was just like, “Oh, this kid don’t want to talk to anybody, and now he feels like he has a village and he has friends that he made through the program.”

So, that was one of our young people. And then for our Adult Village Builder, we had a lady. Beautiful, beautiful young lady. Oh, sorry.

Zydalis Bauer: That’s okay.

LaTonia Monroe Naylor: Trying not to get emotional! But we had a we had a lady and she went through a lot. She had been in a domestic violence situation. She had a child. And she’s trying to get herself together and do better.

And so she said to me, you know, “I wasn’t going to come back because, you know, I, I didn’t know if I felt motivated to be here,” she said. “But something in me kept driving me to come every time.” She said, “I’m so happy that I listen to that voice in me that kept saying, Come back, come back.” She’s like, “And now I’m a changed woman. Now I have a different mindset. I understand what I need to do and I’m ready to do it.”

And I was just like, “Yay! That’s what we want. That’s what we want,” you know?

And so, having those conversations and seeing the change and really connecting with people on the level that’s authentic, it’s powerful, it’s invaluable. There’s no amount of money that you can put on it to price, you know, price that. It’s nothing that I can say really can make me feel any happier than seeing that kind of transition for people.