Detroit mom using cafes to motivate other parents to change city

Mother working with Excellent Schools Detroit to teach other parents about benefits of early childhood education

DETROIT - A Detroit mother wants the best for her two daughters and her community and she is not afraid to make it happen.

Angelica Criswell has made early childhood education a priority for her two daughters, Amira and Jasmine, both four years old.  

"I have so many concerns for them.  I am just trying to create opportunities that will keep them out of bad things. That is my main concern. I want to have so many positive opportunities that they won't have time to get caught in the negative things," said Criswell.

Criswell has her daughters enrolled in a Head Start preschool program.  She is also involved in spreading the message of the importance of early childhood education as a parent host for community cafes put on by Excellent Schools Detroit.

"So when my girls are in the community they will have a safe place to play and a safe place to go to school and grow up," said Criswell.  "I want to make the community livable again. I want to bring the youth back to Detroit because it is such a great city and I feel like if we all work together it could be great again."

The cafes, held in communities across Detroit, teach parents about the different benefits of early childhood education.  Local 4 attended one recent cafe that focused on the importance of a consistent sleep routine for children.  

The cafes are also a gathering opportunity for parents to talk about other issues or concerns they might have.

"The cafes really do provide a safe space within community for parents to have those discussions," said Denise Smith, vice president for early childhood, Excellent Schools Detroit.

Smith said the cafes are another way to connect with parents in Detroit.

"A lot of educators, early childhood educators, attempt to engage parents and find it very difficult, schools even, K through 12 have difficulty with engagement," said Smith. "So by utilizing the parents hosts like Angelica and Deborah, they really engage and invite parents that they know. Parents who typically wouldn't come to an event as you stated because they wouldn't know what to expect, they don't feel comfortable, what they may discuss and how they may say it may not be received well so this allows them to again be safe in those discussions and to participate and to learn in an environment where they're with friends that they know."

Excellent Schools Detroit is a coalition of education, government and community leaders working to make Detroit the first major US city where 90 percent of students graduate from high school, 90 percent go on to college programs and 90 percent of enrollees succeed without remediation by 2020.

Meals are provided during the cafes and their is childcare so the moms and dads don't have to worry about who is watching their children.

"I think it is important because when a parent sees another parent doing it, it will hopefully spark leadership, so they can say 'Hey, if she can do it, I can do it too,'" said Criswell.

Criswell's work with the community cafes was put into the national spotlight earlier this year when Local 4 partnered with NBC News to bring Education Nation to Detroit. Criswell spoke at a town hall forum about early childhood education.

"She has the energy, she has passion about making sure her own children succeed and engaging in spreading that knowledge to others because I think she has a concern for what happens in her community, what happens with other parents and their children," said Smith.

Criswell is motivated to inspire other parents to action.

"If someone sees me doing it, a regular person, a regular mom, then maybe, I'm hoping it will make them jump in and make a difference," Criswell said.  "The children really our the future and if we don't take care of them now, it will be a problem later."

Criswell is also working on her goal of becoming a dentist and taking early  learning and leadership development courses to help with her work with the community cafes.

"It's definitely an uphill battle, but cafes like this, it's a start. If we can bring it downtown and fix our schools and just make Detroit more inhabitable then it will turn around because that's it what people want. They want to be comfortable and safe," Criswell said.

The community cafes are being held in Brightmoor, Chadsey Condon, Cody, Midtown, Osborn and Southwest Detroit.

For more information on the community cafes call Excellent Schools Detroit at (313) 285-9156.

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