While Georgetown may seem to be bustling with undergraduates, the university also serves as a hub for parents and advocates for the improvement of elementary education.

Mom Congress, an initiative that partners with the School of Continuing Studies, boasts over 25,000 members, both male and female, who are passionate about seeking reforms in their children’s school systems.

The program, which was launched by Parenting Magazine in 2009, advocates for positive change in the education system across the United States.

“There are cases where parents are stepping up and making change in schools all across the country. It can be a case of homework policy. In other cases it’s better playgrounds and funding for school libraries. Parents are taking a more active role and that’s how Mom Congress was born,” Catherine McManus, director of brand communications and partnership at The Parenting Group, said.

Robert L. Manuel, dean of the SCS, contacted Parenting Magazine to create the partnership in the fall of 2008 after learning about parents’ work to raise awareness for educational reform.

“[The] SCS has been a wonderful partner since the very beginning, and our goal was to give parents all across the country the tools and resources that they need to effect change,” McManus said.

Parenting Magazine, in partnership with the congress, chooses 51 education advocates, representing each state and the District of Columbia, to attend the annual Mom Congress on Education and Learning Conference, which is held at Georgetown University. During the event in late April, parents meet with the prominent education leaders to discuss the importance of family engagement.

At the inaugural conference in May 2010, the delegates joined hundreds of local education and community leaders in a town hall on parental engagement in education with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has been a constant presence at the conference for the past two years.

“The Department of Education really has been a wonderful partner with Mom Congress, and they see these women as advocates for children … and understand the power that they have,” McManus said.

The focus of the conference changes each year, as a new theme is presented and new issues are addressed.

“We’re constantly learning new things. We’re not only responding to what the Department of Education and some education leaders are telling us is important, we’re listening to the moms as well who have played a huge role in the development of this campaign,” McManus said.

According to Kelly Holdcraft, university liaison for Mom Congress and director of the paralegal studies program at the SCS, versatility is a key asset of the initiative.

“The beauty of the conference and Mom Congress itself is that we have the opportunity to address issues in different ways,” she said. “Something else we’re learning about Mom Congress as we go along is that it’s very much an evolution. Each year we have the opportunity to evolve it based on what’s happening with education advocacy issues.”

One result of the inaugural conference in 2010 was the “Lesson Plan for Change,” a guide created to empower parents to involve themselves in their children’s educations. The guide was drafted by Parenting Magazine editors, the Mom Congress advisory board and SCS faculty.

Students from SCS’s Masters of Professional Studies in Public Relations and Corporate Communications program as well as from the journalism program have also assisted in the efforts.

As the educational partner to Mom Congress, the School of Continuing Studies works to help the delegates ground their campaign in facts.

“At the SCS, our role is [that of a] problem solver. [We] identify a problem and convene people around that problem. [We] bring people together,” Holdcraft said.

The conferences help garner more attention to education issues, and though Mom Congress has not yet brought about national legislative changes, it has had success locally, according to McManus.

“I would not say we effect legislation on a national level, but a lot of the goal is to provide these women with the tools that they can go back to their communities with and lobby for changes to state or local legislation,” she said.

As a developing grassroots organization, Mom Congress has helped emphasize the conversations about education that are taking place across the nation.

“So many different success stories have come out of this small group of women,” Holdcraft said.

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