A Chicago-based organization that helps middle- to low-income parents better educate their children has expanded its outreach to communities outside of the city’s geographic boundaries.

Black Star Project, a non-profit organization located in Chicago, provides programs and other educational resources to parents. The organization’s Parent University program began two years ago, providing parents with workshops set up at their children’s schools.

The program, which brings in speakers who cover various topics, began its first year mainly at elementary and high schools in Chicago. This year the program has expanded to include suburban schools and townships, including neighboring Oak Park.

The Black Star Project targets low-income students, particularly those with achievement issues for black and Hispanic students.

Mona El-Shamaa, director of the Parent University Program at Black Star Project, said many surrounding areas face similar issues affecting its minority student population.

“As suburbs begin to experience these issues, we believe growth in the program is necessary,” she said. “Other people don’t perceive that these issues affect those communities, but they do.”

Parent University is one of Black Star’s more recognized programs, said El-Shamaa.

Black Star has expanded the program to schools in Rockford, Maywood, Melrose Park, Bellwood, Calumet City and Oak Park. El-Shamaa said a branch of the program has even started in Raleigh, N.C.

A school in Dolton, Ill., she said, had 80 parents at a recent session, the largest ever for Parent University. Most sessions have 20 or less, she said.

“Parents are just happy that schools are working with them to reach the same goals they have for their students,” said El-Shamaa.

Lynn Allen, director of multicultural education for Oak Park’s District 97 elementary and middle school district, wanted to bring Parent University to Oak Park, which is known as one of Illinois’ more diverse and affluent communities, has faced gaps in student achievement with some of its black students.

Allen said she contacted the Black Star Project after hearing about the organization and its programs from an Oak Park resident, who teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.

Allen said she’s tried to apply for grants for programs like Parent University, but to no avail.

“Every time we applied for grants, we were turned down,” said Allen. “People always said, ‘Oh, Oak Park, you’re a wealthy community; you don’t have any problems.’ That sort of thing.”

She contacted Black Star last fall, writing a letter to its founder Philip Jackson. Jackson, she said, looked at the school report cards for Oak Park, which reveal that the schools do indeed have problems in black student achievement.

Oak Park has had three Parent University sessions in the month of April through Black Star, which hosts them throughout the year.

Oak Park’s Percy Julian Middle School hosted a workshop for single mothers raising black boys on April 6.

Rochelle Floyd, an Oak Park parent with a 14-year-old attending the school, came to the workshop to find out how to get her son to talk about things troubling him. Floyd, who had her first child when she was 16, said she learned some things herself from the workshop.

“The information actually helped me to learn how to get him to open up a little more as opposed to me drilling him,” said Floyd, who’s married now, but spent many years as a single mother. “It’s almost like I have to conjure up a conversation with him to show that I’m interested in how his day was, and what he and his friends did that day.”

Allen said she would like to hold additional workshops in the summer and fall through Black Star or as a separate effort within the Oak Park system.

“Our strategy is: any type of program and any type of activity that will help our students achieve, we want to support it,” she said.

For more information about the Parent University and Black Star Project visit www.blackstarproject.org.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com