Stiles Simmons drew a crowd of Head Start and Early Head Start parents to their feet after sharing a story about a parent who had fostered success in her son.

He served as the guest speaker at FiveCAP, Inc.’s 36th annual Parent Volunteer Honors Banquet, which took place on June 7 at the Baymont Inn and Suites in Ludington. FiveCAP Head Start Executive Director Mary Trucks explained that Simmons had been chosen to speak because one of the parents on the policy council had been deeply inspired by something he had said.

“These words had really resonated with her,” Trucks continued, “and she said she had internalized them and that she thought often of them as a parent working with her own children. We are very, very fortunate tonight to have that young man as our speaker.”

Trucks introduced Simmons, who has served as superintendent of Baldwin Community Schools since August 2011. Simmons and his wife, Wendy, have three daughters ranging in age from kindergarten to seventh grade. Trucks pointed out that the family has all three children enrolled in Baldwin Community Schools.

“This is a superintendent who lives and preaches what we all want to aspire to as parents,” she added, “but also as a leader in the community.”

Simmons’ speech focused on the topic of parental involvement and he shared information he’d gathered while researching the subject. He cited a study he’d found that said that children whose parents are above average in their involvement are 30 percent more successful in school than their peers whose parents’ involvement is below average.

“But here’s something that I think you all might know and it’s pretty disappointing. … The most difficult task for any school is the task of increasing parental involvement,” Simmons said. “What’s disappointing about this fact is that increasing parental involvement is one of the most important things that any school can do. Parents make a difference.”

He listed several steps parents can take to become more involved in their child’s education including reading, having daily conversations with them about school, being in constant communication with their teachers, participating in school fundraisers and joining the local parent/teacher groups.

But it was the story he shared to illustrate his point that moved the crowd to stand and applaud. In preparation for his speech, Simmons said he had called a former Head Start parent who he knew had continued to be very involved in her son’s educational career.

“I wanted to better understand from her why she decided to enroll her son in Head Start and why she felt it was important to be involved in her son’s education,” he said. “So she started by telling me that she simply wanted her son to be successful – to be more successful than she was. Someone who, one day, would graduate from college, find a beautiful bride, settle down and raise a family.

“She talked about having a vision of her son being an adult. She often would see well-dressed, educated men and make a comment, ‘That’s what I want my son to become when he becomes an adult.’”

As the discussion continued, this woman told Simmons that she had read with her child every day and that they often took walks together, describing the things they saw along the way. She had weekly conversations with his teachers and enrolled him in clubs and organizations where he would have access to positive role models.

They also discussed the “trials and tribulations that she and her son faced,” Simmons said. Due to her husband’s gambling and substance abuse issues, her son’s first three years of education took place at four different schools and she eventually went through a divorce, got a job and went back to school all while raising four children.

“She talked about having received government assistance and having to lean on family when times got tough,” Simmons continued. “However, she told me that in spite of these unfortunate circumstances, she never gave up hope, she never lowered her expectations, she never let go of the vision she had for her son. She continued to be involved in her son’s education, insisting that he perform well in school, complete his homework and be respectful to others. She also continued to work with the school to not only advocate for her son, but to make the school a better place for all children.

“Now, I realize that to some, this story might seem pretty typical and for others, this story might seem rather unremarkable. Except for the fact that the parent in this story happens to be my mother and the son in this story happens to be me. …

“Never doubt the power of vision. Never doubt the power of expectations. Never doubt the power of love. And to sum it all up, never doubt the power of an involved parent.”