Dr. H.E. Holliday, an associate professor of educational leadership at KSU, spoke to more than 150 mothers and their sons Saturday at the university’s conference center to show them where they can find support in their academic and personal lives.
“Mothers are not alone,” said Holliday, former Cobb County assistant superintendent and Chief of Staff of Atlanta Public Schools.
In recent years, the number of single-parent households has drastically increased in Cobb County, Holliday said. At some high schools in the southwest part of the district, the percentage of single-parent homes tops 80 and 90 percent, he said.
In a poor economic climate, single parents, especially mothers, are forced to work more jobs, which makes it difficult to stay engaged in their children’s lives, Holliday said.. While there are a number of programs for young girls to participate in, he added, there is almost no attention given to boys, who need the extra help to make it through the system.
“Girls seem to know how to behave, sit through class and get the job done. … Who has the highest number of discipline problems? Boys. The lowest standardized test scores? Boys. We can’t continue that trend,” he said.
Holliday believes it is imperative to get mothers of boys engaged and invested in their son’s graduations and futures.
“There is a strong correlation with parental support and student success,” Holliday said.
Meet them in the middle
It was just after noon Saturday, and Ebony Narh, 32, stood, bouncing along to a live hip-hop show with her 14-year-old son, Zedrian.
Kevin Cates, who has worked with top artists including T.I., R. Kelly and Jay Z, stood on stage and sang to a crowd of mostly African-American mothers and their sons.
“I can be anything that I want to be,” he rapped.
This positive message was important for her son to hear, Narh said, as she has a hard time ensuring he interacts with positive male role models.
As an unemployed, single mother studying full-time to finish a master’s degree in social work at Clark Atlanta University, Narh said it was incredibly challenging to fully be there for her son.
“It’s stressful. I have to be there to support him further than I made it in my life,” she said, “I live by the saying ‘fake it until you make it’.”
Narh said she will do whatever it takes to make sure her son succeeds, but knows first-hand the sacrifices she has to make in order to be there for her son, a student at Pebblebrook High School studying music.
“Sometimes I find myself in my room crying. It’s like a roller coaster; some days I am trying to decide how we are going to get enough food on the table,” she said.
Workshops like Saturday’s event at KSU have helped her learn to create monthly and weekly budgets, set up banking accounts and a will and life insurance policy.
Many of Zedrian’s friends are from single-parent households, and she knows dozens of mothers who struggle with balancing their own educations as well as their sons’.
Single mothers have a tendency to push their boys out into the world, expecting them to fill the role of “the man of the household,” said Helen Riley, the executive director of S.A.F.E. Place, Inc., an after-school program in Austell.
“We’re punking our boys out, which is how we get punk men,” said the single mother of seven.
Riley works with boys raised in single-family homes to teach them how to communicate with their mothers and the outside world, and to give them skills needed to graduate high school and find lasting employment.
“We tend to cuddle our girls because we were girls, and we push our boys out,” from the pain mothers feel after being left by a male partner, Riley said.
A strong sense of faith has helped Robin Saunders, a single mother of three boys, cope with the demands of a full-time job and raising a family.
Every week, she deliberately schedules time to spend “quality time,” with her sons, two of whom attend at Kennesaw Mountain High School. They volunteer at MUST Ministries together and play tennis and basketball, she said.
A professor at Kenensaw State University, Saunders said she is blessed her job gives her the flexibility to have time to spend supporting her sons, making sure they get to football practice and school on time.
“Being a single mother, I have to be more organized, for sure,” she said.
Otha E. Thornton, the president of the National PTA, spoke to parents Saturday, has been to many schools with high percentages of single-parent high schools.
In some communities, up to two-thirds of a school population comes to from a single-parent household, Thornton said, which often correlates with a lower socio-economic status. This means parents are working multiple jobs and have no time to engage with their children’s schools, he said.
Thornton encourages schools to rearrange meeting times with parents to better meet traditional work schedules.
Most parents can’t make it to a 10 a.m. parent-conference meeting if they have a job, he said, and many are missing crucial opportunities to stay involved with their kid’s lives because of a miscommunication between parents and school administration.
Holliday believes it’s not too late to get single parents involved in their son’s lives. He is working to understand where parents are coming from, and trying to get schools to meet them halfway.