Friday, March 31, 2006

Our children need parental involvement and leadership

Our children need parental leadership
March 15, 2006, The Future News, Arab Newspaper Chicago
By Ray Hanania

A few years ago in District 230, Arab families noticed that their children were being singled out by the school board, and being punished harshly. Many were being expelled.

The board members, mainly from Palos Heights, were behind what later appeared to be a racist-driven campaign to force the Arab families to move to other communities. That racism boiled over, as we all know, in 2000, when the community protested plans to convert a long-abandoned Christian church into a mosque.

At the time, we organized a campaign to approach the school board to determine how we could work with them to address what was clearly a problem.

District 230 has three schools, Stagg, Andrew and Sandburg, and about 6,60 students in all. Of that, about 10 percent, or 660 were Arab, mostly Palestinian and Jordanian, split evenly between Christian and Muslim in religion.

Yet, of the students expelled, 90 percent were Arab.

We went to the school board meeting and said that if the Arab students are only 10 percent of the school population yet 90 percent of the punishments, didn't that suggest that something was wrong that needed to be addressed?

Instead of responding positively, the school board rejected our efforts and some described our children as "street gang members."

They avoided their responsibility as an elected school board paid for by our tax dollars.

But at the same time, we quickly recognized that the Arab parents of our students also neglected their responsibilities.

Sometimes, we, as parents, don't even know what our children are doing at school. And worse, we don't get involved in the school activities ourselves.

The only time we do something is when we are there to complain. We become reactive, not pro-active.

Things have changed much since the early 1990s. The number of students in District 230 and also in the neighboring Oak Lawn High school district, have increased dramatically.

In Oak Lawn alone, 20 percent of the students there are Arab. I have participated in several programs through Oak Lawn high school from career days to parental training to help get parents involved. I've seen many Arab students at these events, but very few parents.

Oak Lawn is a good example.

Although we have so many students there of Arab heritage, we have very little parental involvement. As a result, our students are not performing as well as they might.

For example, just walking through the hall of the school I noticed a few things and jotted down some statistics.

There are seven members on the Oak Lawn high school board. None are Arabs. In fact, since the school was launched in 1950, there were no Arab members, even though the Arab community in Oak Lawn is significant and continues to grow.

There are four officers on the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), and none of them are Arab, either.

On one wall, I did notice something that made me feel pride.

The co-president of this year's student council is Maysa Matariyeh. One of the school's sports stars highlighted in several newspaper stories is Mohamed Abdel-Qader.

But although I know we have many students who are great achievers in sports - like the soccer team which has many Arab members, we are dragging behind in other important areas.

Of the 240 students this year cited with achieving "High Honors" and a grade point average of 3.75 or above, only 8 are Arab. Of the 480 students this year cited with achieving "Honors" and a grade point average of between 3.0 and 3.749, only 39 are Arab.

The school newspaper, which is so influential in terms of defining students and putting the spotlight on student achievement, had no Arab names in it or on its editorial board. The Year Book has about 20 editors and 15 of them are Arab, I was told, which is an encouraging sign.

And, of 200 students who were cited with having "perfect attendance" this semester. Only three were Arab. Tariq Haddad and, presumably his brother,. Khalil Haddad, and Shadi Ahmad.

Of hundreds of teachers, we only have one teacher and two teacher aides who are Arab. We should have far more given the number of students at the school.

And, of all the languages taught at the school, Arabic is not one of them, even though today it is one of the most sought-after languages by companies and the government in job hiring.

Is there a problem?

If there is, it is not with the students. It is with the parents. We don't get involved. Few of us attend school board meetings. Even fewer could tell you what their children ate for lunch.

Some say that the cultural difference place an excessive burden on our students. But I don't believe that is the real reason. It is a factor, but not the most important factor.

Our children don't have role models in the school system or in life who are Arab that they can look up to and help to build their own lives. The role model who is most important is the parent.

We need to do something about it. But don't wait for the school district or even agencies like the Human Relations Commission to do anything. They always have excuses. You have to do it yourself.

Get involved in your child's school life and you will be amazed at how much of a positive impression you will have on them and on the non-Arab parents and families who participate.

It can change the way we live in a positive way and make it easier for our children to achieve great things with their lives.

(Ray Hanania is a 1971 graduate of Reavis High school and former editor of the school's newspaper. He is an award winning journalist, author and standup comedian and can be reached at

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