A Different Kind of Planning

Guest post by Ana Gomez | AmeriCorps VISTA for America Reads/America Counts at Duke University

A large part of my role at Duke is to put on a series of sessions for Spanish speaking parents for a program called Learning Juntos. As a recent Carolina graduate, I thought I would be able to use skills acquired throughout undergrad to plan for these events, but I soon came to realize that planning events for the community required a new set of skills.

To give a little context, this year I am working as an AmeriCorps VISTA for Duke’s America Reads/Counts program. As an AmeriCorps member, I am working on a number of related projects, one of which is Learning Juntos. It is a program that provides different sessions, completely in Spanish, to teach parents about a variety of topics pertaining to their child’s education. While the program is housed at Club Boulevard Elementary, it is open to any parent who wants to come. I strongly believe in a program like this because I see the value in taking the time to teach parents, especially those who do not know English, to be actively involved in their child’s education. This program works primarily to remove the language barrier.

When planning for events in undergrad, social media was the best platform to publicize our events. However, planning the first session of Learning Juntos proved to be much more multi-layered; I had to find bilingual student volunteers, spread the word to the parents, reserve the space, ensure that the material made sense in Spanish, etc. I also discovered that the actual timing of the event would be an important factor. Many of our parents work until 5:00 or 6:00, so a session right after school wouldn’t work, and we also had to consider the fact that parents might be too tired to get off of work and come straight back to the school for a meeting at 6:00. We had to think about the event from every angle possible, giving special attention to what timing and methods of communication would be best for the families we were trying to reach. Since social media didn’t seem like the best avenue for communicating, I worked collaboratively with others to brainstorm additional ways to spread the word.

“This experience taught me just how many lenses one has to put on for planning a community event.”

Come the day of the first session, it was 6:10 and still no one had showed up. We then began to discuss the different reasons why that day at that specific time just didn’t work. Our first mistake was not looking at the school’s overall calendar. That specific week had already been filled with other after-school events for parents. Another big factor was that the fourth graders were coming back from their day trip to the mountains that evening, so many of their parents would have kids that were either too tired or had too much energy to sit around at the school for yet another hour. Although parents weren’t able to attend that day, all of our student volunteers came and were willing to reschedule the session for a later time. We have heard from parents that a session like this would be helpful, we just have to plan for the ideal time and place. This experience taught me just how many lenses one has to put on for planning a community event and how sometimes results different from what we expected can push us to better incorporate the voices and perspectives of community members in the programming we offer.