Lai-Lani (L) and a PAC member sharing a laugh at this year's PAC Celebration. (Photo: Kyla Yeoman for United Way of the Columbia-Willamette)

Just over a year ago, I joined United Way’s Early Learning Multnomah team with one of my responsibilities being to help grow membership on the Parent Accountability Council (PAC). The PAC is made up of parents from culturally specific communities who work to ensure that parent voice guides our early learning work. Together, they drive the decision-making and strategic priorities for our Early Learning Multnomah initiative.

My new role was a combination of my passions in education, community engagement, and advocacy. So I was excited to dive in and understand how parent voice is central to our work – not why – as research shows that when parents are engaged and involved in their child’s education, that student is more likely to succeed in school and that school will feel more welcoming to families. 

A few months before I started working with our parent leaders, we welcomed our daughter into the world. It seems cliché to say it, but it’s so true – having a baby changes everything! At the same time that I was learning the ropes in my new role on the early learning team, I was a new parent to this little human who came into our family with 24/7 demands of our time, love, and attention. 

I felt an immediate connection to members of the PAC through the universal language of parenthood – hearing them speak about their love for their children and community, as well as sharing their hopes and dreams for an educational system that fosters success for all children, regardless of race, ethnicity and class.  

"When we feel that our voices are heard and we see actions taken because of our input – this creates a pathway for our children to succeed"

This year, I’ve witnessed the power parents can have in improving early learning systems by sharing their voice and ideas – including their experiences and knowledge of their communities. When our parent leaders focus on a topic, such as access to quality preschool for all, they provide ideas and solutions. Our job is to elevate the PAC’s ideas at the local and state levels. And we’re accountable to our parent leaders. 

There’s a reason the A in PAC stands for Accountability, rather than Advisory. It’s not a focus group and it isn’t a one-time gathering of feedback. We report back to the PAC and they, in turn, report back to the larger network of parents within their diverse communities. It is an ongoing, reciprocal process of intentionally placing parent voice at the center, at the very heart of our early learning work. 

As a new parent, I’m learning that we play a vital role as our child’s first teacher and first advocate. Whether communicating our child’s needs to a teacher or a caregiver, as parents we are looking for that sense of reciprocity in order to feel that our child is in good hands while we are away from each other. When parents are included early on in the process, when we feel that our voices are heard and we see actions taken because of our input – this creates a pathway for our children to succeed and for us, as parents, to continue our involvement in the educational system.  

The key is accountability and reciprocity.

Click here to learn more about the Parent Accountability Council and how they guide our early learning investments in Multnomah County.