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Town hall With APS: Voices from the community

On Saturday, May 2, the African Leadership Group held a virtual town hall meeting over Zoom with Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn and four members of the Aurora Board of Education. During the town hall, Superintendent Munn and the board members answered questions from the more than 50 participants in the meeting, and discussed how APS is coping with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are how two community members perceived the event:

Evans Kwesi Mensah
Rarely do you see five key officials from a major school district come together outside usual district business to discuss issues with the community. But in these unprecedented times, with COVID-19 impacting us all, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, that’s precisely what happened on Saturday, May 2.

Superintendent Rico Munn highlighted the free meals distribution program which started March 17, saying APS was among the first districts in the state to start such a program. As of May 2 APS had given out half a million meals. He credited donors and volunteers alike. Technology distribution has been notable as well, with about 18,000 devices distributed to date to the community and especially needy families.

Marques Ivey, the school board treasurer, spoke of watching his wife, a first-grade teacher in the district, is using a mixture of patience and emotion to work with her students remotely. At the same, the couple has their own three children at home and in need of help with schoolwork and attention. As someone with his own first-grader in the house, this resonated with me.

Board vice president Kevin Cox issued an interesting challenge to ALG. He said he would like to see ALG lead the development of an African history curriculum in APS. That way, students of African descent in the district who were born here and do not have a clear definition of their roots could learn more about their countries and regions of origin.

ALGs own Papa Dia closed the discussion with one vivid point; ALG and its community are not here to just take, but to contribute as well. It is important to make this a mutual relationship.

Dr. Anne Keke
After almost five years of waiting and multiple extended invitations that remained unanswered, the African immigrant community of Aurora at last had the opportunity to host some board members of Aurora Public Schools and Superintendent Rico Munn.

The meeting lasted two hours, but it felt like 30 minutes. For almost an hour, superintendent Munn gave a thorough presentation on what APS is currently doing in these moments of uncertainty and what the district intends to do during the next school year if the virus persists.

Parents and community members were able to ask questions directly of the superintendent. One parent, Mr. Ba asked how APS is responding to the needs of parents with special needs kids in APS. Superintendent. Munn responded that the district is trying to do better for families with disabled students in APS. He acknowledged this is especially challenging during a time when all learning is remote.

Miss Mariem, an incoming freshman student wanted to know how this situation will affect those preparing for high school in the fall. Superintendent who also has a child who is going to be a freshman said plans are being formulated and will be proposed to the Colorado Department of Education in the next coming month.

My observation as a parent and a teacher: parents had high expectations for what they would learn from this town hall. Unfortunately, the superintendent and board members could not answer many of their questions definitively.
Nonetheless, participants were very appreciative of the presentations from the board members and the superintendent. I am sure many would appreciate a continuous collaboration between the board, the superintendent, and the community.

Please, Superintendent Munn, do not remain a stranger. We would like to be involved, we would like to help you because we know what is good for our kids. The same goes for the APS board members.

The truth of the matter is that nothing is certain. The district is not sure about what is going to happen next school year. Parents and communities, unfortunately, will have to stay in limbo.

Opening remarks at the town hall from Lilyan Hakim

Before I begin, I would like to thank the Aurora Public Schools Superintendent and members of the APS Board of Education for taking time out of your Saturday to join the African Leadership Group and our community for such an important topic. I would also like to thank the parents, students, friends and families for joining this call.

My name is Lilyan Hakim, a junior at Eaglecrest High School. I am the President of the African Leadership Group Youth Empowerment Program. As a daughter of immigrant parents from Sudan, I know how hard it is to navigate through the school system with critical barriers such as language, academic preparation and culture. With help from the African Leadership Group Family Engagement team, immigrant families are provided with the tools and resources needed to assist with the school system hurdle.

The ALG Youth Empowerment program was created to provide a comfortable space for first- and second-generation immigrant kids ages 5 to 16 to share their thoughts, feelings, struggles and challenges in school, home and in their communities.

One of my highlights last year (2019) was having the opportunity to lobby for two representatives and one senator regarding the full-day kindergarten bill that was introduced.

Education is very important to me, my family, and the entire community. The majority of students in our Youth Empowerment Program are in the APS District. I hope this session will provide more resources and assistance to our families during these uncertain times. My ask today of the superintendent and the board members is that we build a partnership between the district and our communities. As the President of the African Leadership Group Youth Empowerment Program we are really looking forward to working together.

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