Dr. Lorena Mancilla speaks at PHS Teacher Institute

By Connie Nolen / COMMUNITY COLUMNIST

Pelham City Schools’ Teacher Institute arrived on Monday, August 5th this year with PCS welcoming parenting involvement researcher, Dr. Lorena Mancilla, as keynote speaker.

Mancilla, seated near the stage, displays a huge smile of authentic delight when our Pelham teacher tribe is suddenly surrounded by the PHS Band. She seems charmed by our talented musicians, color guard, majorettes, and Pantherettes. The students’ performance before our meetings begin is symbolic.

Our students’ talents inspire—and their presence reminds us that professional meetings are fleeting. The great focus of every school year is students. A new school year brings the wonder of new knowledge and delight, as students step into leadership roles that stretch them in extracurricular pursuits and academic classes that challenge and eventually satisfy as students experience both the frustration and satisfaction of mastering more difficult skills and subjects.

A researcher of parenting involvement, Mancilla shares statistics and offers strategies for engaging parents anew—and ideas for strengthening existing bonds. A conversational speaker, Mancilla transports us with stories and slides of her childhood years revealing how her parents engaged in her education. The fact that her own mother’s engagement includes a text as Mancilla arrives to deliver the oral defense of her doctoral dissertation reveals the power of parental partnership.

Mancilla also shares her experience of moving from Chicago proper to the suburbs as an elementary school student. Evoking the emotions of being the new kid in a school where most students are already lifelong friends and so curious about their difference from her, Mancilla transports many of Pelham’s teachers into her suburban hallways. Strong teachers enjoy the camaraderie of their students and agonize over division or exclusion.

“What are you?” Mancilla recalls the question she hears from a curious classmate.

“Mexican-American,” Mancilla will tell her classmates.

Challenging Pelham City Schools’ employees to empower all of our students with equity and opportunity, Dr. Lorena Mancilla leaves us with our focus firmly fixed on our mission to meet students where they are and then, do everything possible to move them towards academic excellence and mastery. School begins again.