By Mariana Lara Lennon

NY Fellow Mariana Lara Lennon's personal testimony serves as reminder that one of the biggest keys to success for a student is parental support.  This blog post was first published here on New York School Talk.

Much is written about access, equity, and excellence. But very little is written about dedication, perseverance, and the willingness to succeed, as well as how parental encouragement helps students achieve academic success.

Are we creating a weak society where everything gets blamed on the powers that be? Are we creating a society where very little accountability is placed on the individual students and their parents when children don’t demonstrate academic growth?

While there is still much to be done to afford all students access to a quality, equal education, we have come a long way.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives the opportunity for everyone to be able to have access to quality education in a public school setting regardless of background, ethnicity, and social economics.  Yet let me tell you a story about a girl who, at the tender age of 12, was brought to this country, right here to Brooklyn, New York. She did not speak a word of English nor had ever seen the many sites or aromas that the city had to offer.  She was excited, but very scared.

She awaited her first day of school, which arrived on a cold winter day. She arrived so excited, waiting to learn and to make friends, but instead encountered a school that was cold and unfriendly.  She was seated at the back of the classroom where she remained for the whole day with no interactions with others, no friends, just sitting there, lonely. She went home confused. Her parents told her, “Don’t give up, it will get better.  Just keep trying.”

Middle school was slightly better but she learned some hard lessons. Teachers tended to be less supportive and peers were even less so.  But once again her parents said, “Don’t give up, it will get better.  Just keep trying.”

So on to high school she went.  Her English had improved, but she definitely had much more to learn.  Here is where she learned the toughest lesson of all: college was really not meant for all;  at least that is what she was told. Although she graduated at the top of her class, she was continuously told that college was not meant  for her.  Her parents could not afford it, and her legal status made it virtually impossible for her to get a scholarship.  So she went to work in a factory, which was all she was told she could do.  She worked long hours earning $2.50 cents an hour for ten hours a day.  Again, she went home sad, lonely and confused.

Once again her parents told her, “Don’t give up, it will get better, just keep trying”

And she kept trying because in her heart she knew that factory work was not what she was meant to do, and her parents always said it would get better. She had to try harder.  And harder she tried. She worked extra hours whenever she could so that she could pay for her schooling.   One credit at a time, she thought.  And like the little engine that could, she did this until she acquired her Associate’s degree.

She eventually went on to finish her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, which she obtained from NYU and the College of St Rose.  She endured many discouraging events but what has always mattered the most has been the encouragement that she had and continues to receive from her parents.  I tell this this personal humble story to remind all stakeholders but, primarily parents, of the important role they play and will continue to play in their children’s lives.  No matter what the situation and the many discouraging people our students will face going forward, the key to their success is the support that they will receive from their parents.

Mariana Lara Lennon started her educational journey in 1993, as a bilingual special education teacher and went on to become the lead teacher for reading and math, providing professional development to colleagues. Her passion for supporting school improvement led her to the role of Educational Administrator for Region 7, bringing new initiatives to schools, as well as supporting the required mandates. Mariana was a middle school Assistant Principal for many years, supervising the ESL and Special Education departments. In 2013 she became the Assistant Principal of PS 310 in Brooklyn, a school she helped co-found.