When a student at Aurora’s Rangeview High School was asked by a police officer last year to take a hair pick out of her Afro because it could be considered a weapon, her mom went to the school to voice concerns about the inequity of banning the wide-toothed combs.

“I tried to educate them,” said Katia Campbell. “There are other things that students wear that could be used as a weapon, but by targeting this item, you are targeting African-American students.”

Christy Hartford, the assistant principal at Rangeview, where about 21.6 percent of students are black, got to thinking.

“That really caused me to look at that and ask how can we use our parents to get feedback on the different practices at our school,” Hartford said.

So, last fall, Hartford recruited Campbell and other black parents to be part of a new group called the African American Parent Committee.

Once a month, seven parents get together and visit three or four classrooms. Parents observe how students are or aren’t engaging with the teacher’s lessons. Later, they sit down with Hartford and some teachers, and provide feedback on what they see. The student paper, the Rangeview Raider Review, first reported on the program.

“We give true and honest feedback,” said Tomeka Speller, a group member and mother of two Rangeview students. “If they looked or appeared comfortable; how they interacted with the environment; the temperature of the room; if the teacher had control of their classroom.”

Although Hartford considers it an experiment, she said it’s already generating good ideas and some uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations.

“It’s been really positive,” Hartford said. “Parents are picking up on things maybe I didn’t pick up on.”

A teacher speaks with parents of the African American Parent Committee. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Campbell, Rangeview Raider Review)

The ultimate goal, she said, is to help close large gaps in the achievement of black students and white students at Rangeview, by getting more ideas as to how to help students.

Hartford said she noticed the large achievement gap when planning last summer for her first year at the school, and knew she wanted to try to narrow it. The gap between the percent of black students and the percent of white students who met expectations on state tests was 18 percentage points.

Hartford said black students at Rangeview are the second-to-lowest performing group and are also the most overrepresented group among those who are disciplined.

As parents observe the classrooms, Hartford provides a list of features to watch for, including students’ attitudes in class and their understanding of the lessons.

In general, Hartford said throughout the year, the majority of parents are noticing that students are collaborating in class and are voicing their opinions. But parents have told Hartford that they notice not enough teachers provide examples during class that are relatable for students of color.

Hartford said that as she has shared feedback with teachers, she has started seeing some incorporating the advice into the way they teach — especially the part about trying to make content more relevant with real-world examples.

Parents say they’re getting something out of it too.

“I just thought this was an awesome and unique experience to be able to sit in,” parent Kyle Speller, another group member, said.

Parents said they’ve learned more about the school’s programs and needs that aren’t necessarily tied to teachers.

“The thing that I saw that needed the most improvement, in my opinion, is funding,” Speller said. “I would love to see more resources provided to the students in APS. There are different times when they would have to share textbooks. I felt that was a little bit disappointing.”

Campbell, who first raised issues about the hair pick ban (which has now been rescinded), said she learned that it’s good to be involved.

“I’m glad that I stepped up to have this conversation,” Campbell said. “I’ve learned that they listen to parents.”

Next year, Hartford said she wants to continue the parent group, but also wants to start a student group to give her “a pulse” on what they’re seeing and experiencing too.

“That’s what’s missing now,” Hartford said. “It’s the student voice.”