The Wilmington Learning Collaborative’s three parent representatives share a passion and background for social work and educational advocacy.
They have similar goals they want to address as members of the council that will guide the new organization. Those areas include mental health services, teacher support and transparency.
Appointed by their school district boards, Red Clay’s Jennie Yeow, Christina’s Shanette Graham and Brandywine’s Starr Wilson will help make decisions affecting nine city elementary schools across those three school districts.
They will be three of the 12 board members.
The Collaborative, created last year by the state and three school districts, is designed to be a grass-roots organization focused on improving classroom outcomes and empowering families in the city of Wilmington.
Here’s more about the trio.
Yeow said her priority is to create a vehicle for educator leadership teams and school community councils to influence their schools.
She also wants to make sure teachers and students get the proper support by identifying ways to create immediate relief for teachers to have more planning time to help students who are falling behind. Doing this will hopefully keep teachers in the city of Wilmington, she said.
Yeow hopes to connect students to services that will address reading challenges.
“I can see that students, teachers and families are really struggling,” she said. “It’s hard. It’s really hard to be a parent. It’s really hard to take care of a kid. It’s really hard to be a teacher, and at the center of all that is a lot of students who are struggling.”
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a lot of the social discrepancies that families in the city already lived with everyday, she said. Those problems came on top of issues that were hurting students, she said.
Organizers have cited poverty, exposure to violence, frequent moves and unstable homes as problems that more city students deal with daily, compared to suburban ones.
“We need to stabilize,” Yeow said. “Our council can make some bold changes and hopefully that’s what we see.”
Observing how private, charter and district schools rebounded from the pandemic encouraged her to apply for a seat on the Learning Collab’s council.
“The difference in how well some schools were able to bounce back while it’s been so difficult for others has been very striking to me,” she said.
Growing up in the city, she struggled academically and socially, she said, and has noticed little progress for Wilmington families since she graduated.
Yeos said she’s known since high school she wanted to work in education and child advocacy.
When she attended H.B. du Pont, she joined a program where she was a mentor to several students at Lewis Elementary.
After that experience, she decided she wanted to be a teacher, so she became a public ally for AmeriCorps.
Public allies are partnered with local nonprofits to help improve and expand services that address issues such as youth development, education, public health, economic development and the environment.
She apprenticed with the Ministry of Caring in Wilmington, and quickly realized she didn’t want to be in the classroom every day.
“Working with 3-year-olds all year was certainly difficult,” she said.
She works with Public Allies Delaware a community engagement and program manager.
“Our mission is leadership development for justice and equity,” she said, “so I’ve had the opportunity to teach and coach people about every day through my work.”
Yeow helps run the family school organization for Lewis Elementary. It’s similar to the Parent Teacher Association and focuses on engaging families with their children’s education.
She was also the campaign manager for the Delaware Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman.
“I have experience with organizing true community engagement. That’s how you create real sustainable change,” she said.
Yeow says one of the strengths she brings to the Collaborative council is a strong connection with people and organizations.
In her off time, she loves to get out of the house to spend time with her husband and daughter, whether that means going to a museum, park, or other places she can meet and be around other people.
Her other interests include yoga, reading, mindful breathing and binging television shows.
As the chief executive officer for a private health company where she takes care of people with dementia and in hospice, Graham says she has devoted her life to creating positive change.
A graduate of Delaware Technical Community College, Graham originally went to school for early education, before deciding to run the health practice Absolute Compassionate Care.
Her goal on the council is to help create a more diverse staff of teachers and find ways to involve parents and family members in schools as much as possible.
A school is a home away from home, she said, and it’s important that parents know they’re sending their children to a place they trust.
Her daughter attends Stubbs Early Education Center,
Being a parent and a former student in city schools has given her perspective on what change she needs to see.
“I bring to the table compassion and real life stories, real life history,” she said. “I went through it, and I’ve had my own share of experiences in those schools and I’ve seen the disadvantages many urban schools share.”
Graham said she has a terrific co-parenting relationship with her daughter’s father. They both have emphasized that education is vital to succeed in today’s world.
“The Learning Collaborative can’t fix everybody,” she said, “but if we could just change one person’s experience everyday, we know we’re working in the right direction.”
Graham spends her free time with cousins and other family members, and tries to be as active in the community as possible with her daughter.
She enjoys volunteering at homeless shelters, giving leftovers to food kitchens and spending time at the Rose Hill Community Center.
“A lot of what this position means to me as a parent is letting all families know that there are resources available to them, and they can be comfortable sending their kids to school.”
Addressing the mental health of students is Wilson’s top priority as a Collaborative council member.
“At some point in the near future we as a council have to talk about mental health,” Wilson said. “We have to talk about the ability of our children to deal with life outside of the school system and how that tends to roll over into school.”
Wilson is chief executive officer of Just P.L.A.Y., a Wilmington nonprofit that curates activities and gives suggestions on keeping children occupied while inspiring creativity. It stands for Promoting Lifetime Activities For Youth.
She worked as a social worker in foster care for six years, and was a mediator in family court for New Castle County for more than two years.
“And when I say that is the most humbling job that you will ever stumble upon, you get to see the good, the bad and the ugly in between families and their dynamics,” she said.
Wilson earned her bachelor’s in human services with a concentration in criminal justice from Delaware Technical Community College and a master’s in organization management and leadership from Springfield College in Wilmington.
She’s the mother of two children in Harlan Elementary, one of the Collaborative’s nine schools.
Wilson said she brings a strong social and professional network to the council. She also has stress crisis management.
“I’m here to accept where the board wants to go, but also challenge them,” Wilson said. “I want to make sure that we’re not just saying yes to everything, but we’re having an open dialogue and conversation that makes sense for the parents in the community.”
In her free time, Wilson loves spending time with her four children and husband.
“We get dirty – we get in the ground and we get messy,” she said. “We do a lot of crafting, a lot of camping, and I love just being with my kids because they’re growing up on me really fast.”
She religiously practices Zumba, and will often pick up the controllers to game with her children.
“All of the council members have things that we’re going to be great at,” Wilson said. “I just hope that we all can bring that to the table to make this a dynamic board that accomplishes a lot for Wilmington families.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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