Josue Teran and Michelle Juarez are putting 10 children through school right now. They’re trying to balance their jobs while taking care of their family. 

So the two meet often with a family engagement specialist at Morningside Middle School to go over test scores, check the progress of their kids, nieces and nephews and get access to services they might need.

Upcoming Parent Partnership classes

February classes include: Why Attendance Matters, How to Conduct Effective Parent Conferences, Noche de juego de mesa en familia (Family board game night)

Classes are available in Spanish. Times and locations vary, for details click here.

The new Parent Partnerships department, launched early in the 2021-22 school year, at Fort Worth ISD aims to help families become more involved in their students’ education, especially at the middle school level. The department serves 108 elementary and middle school campuses in the district.

Parents need to be involved during middle school because that’s when educators tend to see parental involvement decline, Executive Director of Parent Partnerships Marta Plata said. The program offers resources like classes for parents, access to food and clothes and helps them understand their student’s progress in the classroom and more.

Understanding test scores together

When Teran and Juarez sit down for a meeting with Family Engagement Specialist Marcus Cook, they go over all the benchmark test scores for their students. 

Sitting down with a specialist helps them understand what all the different scores mean. After reviewing the scores, Teran said they can make a plan for after school tutoring, if needed.

Students in Fort Worth ISD take benchmark tests periodically to track how much they’ve learned at certain points in the school year. This helps teachers know what students need to study before the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test, in the spring. The specialists collect that data and make sure the parents understand it, Plata said.

“It’s to bring some awareness for parents to understand,” Plata said. “Because before, they would just get scores.”

The specialists help parents become more involved in making a plan for improvement. Parents talk with the specialist about pulling the students out for small groups to get them where they need to be, scorewise, she said.

Meeting needs outside the classroom

Walking into one of the portable buildings on the Morningside Middle School campus, a visitor might come across a specialist meeting with parents about scores, students getting a haircut or a young girl getting access to feminine hygiene products.

A room filled with various hygiene, laundry and household products available to families at Morningside Middle School. Principal Monica Garrett said she wants her campus to meet the needs of the community. (Kristen Barton | Fort Worth Report)

Principal Monica Garrett wants her campus to meet the needs of the community. Her mother went to Morningside Middle School, it’s her community, and Garrett wants to help it thrive, she said.

The school is part of the 76104 ZIP code — which has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in Texas. To help reverse that trend, Garrett knew she’d have to serve the whole child to meet academic, emotional and social needs.

The portable buildings on her campus serve as a place for parents to access both classes and basic needs. One of the buildings has a room filled with cabinets equipped with laundry detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash and other hygiene products — all free for parents and students.

Through research and years working in education, Garrett knows that when students don’t have access to basic hygiene and clean clothes, they’re less likely to attend school — or do well. 

She’s able to keep the room stocked through funding grants, working with community partners and donations.  

Teran said the school sends students home with food over the holidays and holds drives to get jackets for children who need them.

Raysha Elisher is another parent at the campus who uses the services. Her son was able to get a haircut at the school that she would have had trouble affording otherwise. The Parent Partnerships department brought in barbers to give the children free haircuts.

His attitude changed with the fresh haircut, Elisher said. He was showing off and asking if they’ll be back.

Elisher’s daughter called her while she was at school once because she needed a change of clothes. “She’s a woman, you know, so she messed up her clothes,” she said.

But Elisher was at work and wasn’t sure how she’d get away and get to the school. Thankfully, her daughter was able to get what she needed from the school and its resources.

“Those things matter,” Elisha said. “Because it’s really hard out here, especially for single parents, single mothers that don’t have any help. These resources they offer, I think, are very helpful. This school is more than just school to me, as a parent.”

Specialist services

Specialists like Marcus Cook take on roles beyond analyzing test scores — they’re there for the whole family. Cook frequently shows up to volleyball or basketball games to show support for the students, Teran and Juarez said.

(Cook’s) goal is simple: Eliminate any barriers between the child and their education.

Marcus Cook

The children appreciate seeing him at the games, Teran said.

Cook’s role is to serve as a liaison between the parents and the school, he said. His goal is simple: Eliminate any barriers between the child and their education.

Parents can visit with Cook about anything from grades to behavior or attendance. 

“I just see a need and I try to meet a need,” Cook said. “It can run the whole gambit from a haircut to, ‘We just moved and we need furniture,’ we can have those kinds of conversations and I can help you out with that.”

Cook wants to make school a place where the children can come have fun and learn.

The school has a homeless population, Garrett said, and while families are waiting on housing vouchers the campus reaches out to Cornerstone on behalf of the parents. Campus staff has helped families get a moving truck and move, Garrett said.

Housing, clean clothes and haircuts have a positive impact on a child’s education, even if it doesn’t directly relate to what’s in the curriculum.

For example, if a student hasn’t had a recent haircut, they might come to school self-conscious, Cook said. Because of that, the student probably wears a hat or a hoodie, which isn’t allowed at school.

A student might also get argumentative with a teacher asking the student to take off the hoodie because they don’t want to say it’s because of their hair. That then becomes a discipline issue.

Cook’s solution to avoid such scenarios is to find ways to get haircuts for free, like Elisher’s son was able to get.

Cook also helps families get detergent or access to a washing machine so the students can have clean clothes to wear in compliance with dress code. Dress code violations can embarrass the students, he said, and it adds another level of social shame if the child has to say it’s because all their clothes are dirty.

“People may see that as something that is very superficial, but we all like to look good,” Garrett said. “When we look good, we perform differently — everybody does.”

Plata notices families building a better relationship with the schools, and that’s how she knows the initiative is working.

“They need to know this is their school. All of us work for them,” she said. “Every single employee of Fort Worth ISD, we work for the parents, right? That’s the mindset that has to change.”

The school is part of the community, Garrett said, and is there to help serve those in need.

“If somebody is wanting the playbook, the playbook doesn’t stop between the hours of 8:30 and 4:30,” Garrett said. “It’s more than a job. It’s a calling. You have to truly be invested in the community and the parents and you want to see them be successful.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen BartonEducation Reporter

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...