By: Sarabeth Weszely, Senior Writer
November 26, 2019
I’m grateful our school’s culture isn’t one that says, ‘I’m going to impose on you what I think you need,’ but it says, ‘We appreciate you and the amazing power that you have. If you have not tapped into that power, we can help you do that.’ – Tatiana Mahoney
We love the community we serve. While our most specific mission may be providing quality college-preparatory education for kids, we also work to engage our broader community and holistically support their families.
“The focus is always the children,” says Tatiana Mahoney (above), who is now in her second year as our Director of Family and Community Engagement. “As a leadership school, we know the main influence in a child’s life is always going to be the parent, so my job is to empower parents to become leaders and role models for their children.”
Gratitude is one value many parents have said they hope to impart to their kids, and we have dedicated the month of November to cultivating gratitude in our school. Parents have been working together to decorate “Gratitude Jars” for the teachers, which students have then filled with encouraging notes.
“I have always connected with my son, but Inwood Academy helps me connect with him more, because he learns the values of the school, like caring and integrity,” says middle school dad Raphael Jimenez.
A large part of Tatiana’s job is helping facilitate deep family connections between parents and kids. “The stronger the family unit is, the more support the student is going to have,” she says, “and if you are doing an activity together that you both enjoy, kids are likely to talk about their life.” Like with the gratitude jars, her projects often involve this kind of collaboration.
Our latest family council meeting included a workshop and discussion about communicating with teens. “Parents are afraid their kids don’t listen, but kids do listen,” Tatiana reflects on the importance of this conversation. “Kids want to please their parents, even if they’re fighting. The relationship is so important for kids.”
Inwood Academy seeks to provide families with the academic, socio-emotional and financial resources they need in order to be the strongest family they can be. Some of our programming includes: a weekly coffee hour and book club, grade-tracking assistance, a series of Title 1 meetings, a grief support group, a community for parents of children with special needs called Together We Can, and a variety of other workshops on parent-selected topics. Events are hosted in both English and Spanish so as to prevent language barriers.
Tatiana also oversees various active Whatsapp groups to support parents whose schedules don’t allow them to attend events at the school, “because many times our parents have two jobs or they work nights, and many are single parents.” We lean on partners like World Vision and the Love Kitchen to help alleviate whatever financial or material needs we can in our students’ and families’ lives.
In response to specific parent requests, Tatiana has been bringing in resources from the community to provide more programming options for our students and families outside of school, such as City College’s STEM Institute and Columbia University’s college preparedness conferences.
At our Culture Night and Resource Fair this fall, parents were able to team up with their kids to enter a cooking competition, and the winning recipe, along with a more detailed description of the event, is linked here on the website. Though the night was filled with poignant examples of family connection, parent leadership and cultural exchange, this story felt like an especially moving example of parent leadership:
Elias Rodriguez and his daughter Elina (pictured below, left) prepared extensively for their entry into Culture Night cooking competition. They signed up ahead of time and even wore matching chef coats. Elias works as a truck driver and was held up late at work the night of the event and arrived too late for the competition. Elias told his daughter, “We did our best. The real prize was spending time with you.” During the preparation for the event they had already spent numerous hours talking about their cultural heritage, and their high value for hospitality and respect. “You have to respect the food you are going to make and time everything just right,” he said. Elias reminded Elina of all the joy they shared together and even thought of ways to encourage other parents who entered the contest. That kind of generosity is what the whole gathering was about.
Raphael Jimenez (pictured above, right) is another example of a parent who leads generously, not only with their own kids, but our entire student body. He and his son Raphael jr. love to play baseball together, and so Raphael volunteers on our baseball team. Because he knows many families are unable to attend games and practices, Raphael supports the kids on the team, encouraging them to do well in school and sports, and taking a personal interest in their growth and well-being. “I hooray for them, as well as I hooray for my son,” Raphael says.
The work of developing future leaders doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We have never planned on accomplishing our mission alone, and so we don’t expect parents to either. This Giving Tuesday and always, we are grateful for the partnership and dedication of our families.