When Dilsna Peña went to a city Department of Education online meeting for parents about reopening schools, she expected to have a conversation with administrators.
"It wasn't like that," said Peña, whose 14-year-old son goes to school in the Bronx. "It was like someone reading from a script, saying, 'Here's what we've decided.'"
Then, Peña attended a UFT online meeting for parents. "It feels like a parent talking to parents" at UFT workshops, she said. Peña said she felt like part of a community – a "participant" in her son's school experience.
The UFT parent workshops started in June and ran through the summer.
Topics included preventing summer learning loss and free virtual summer camps. City Comptroller Scott Stringer stopped by one workshop to chat with UFT President Michael Mulgrew and some 2,000 parents about improving remote learning. And parents learned about New York City Public Library resources for families and how to support social-emotional learning at home. When a presentation about blended learning was incredibly popular, the UFT repeated it in Spanish.
Nicholas Cruz, the UFT director of community and parent engagement, knows families have dozens of questions about their children's schooling, child care, medical services and more.
"In the midst of all this craziness — of the despair of not knowing, of watching the governor and mayor battle back and forth — we had a calm," Cruz said. "For one hour a week, parents and guardians received good information."
And when parents connect with each other and get good information, Cruz says, they become leaders.
That was the case for Bronx parent Marie Plaisir, who attended her first UFT parent event in 2006 and started volunteering with the UFT soon after. Fourteen years later, she still attends UFT events and often helps plan them. "I've experienced such a welcoming atmosphere," she said.
When schools switched to remote learning in March, Plaisir said, "it was really hard" for her and her fellow parents. Technology was a challenge, especially for grandparents, she said.
Plaisir shared the workshop information with other parents and guardians, who found needed support. The UFT workshops showed parents "how to get on Zoom, schedule meetings and get going," she said.
Cruz hopes that as more people get involved in the UFT parent community, "we'll keep building this group's power" to work in concert with the union.
"We'll be a force to be reckoned with," he predicted.