National education advocate says family is key to learning


Special to the NNPA News Wire from The Charlotte Post

Education always played a big part in Byron Garrett’s life.

“Education has always been a love of our family,” said Garrett, a Greensboro native and chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance. “It’s always been the key thing that we believe to help you transition from one space in life to the next. So I found myself as a school principal and a state [education] advisor really focusing on education strategy and believing it is a key opportunity to do great work.”

Although education influenced Garrett, it was two nephews who pushed him to do more. They were living in South Carolina when Garrett learned they were having great difficulty.

“My eldest brother, their father, has been incarcerated for 18 years,” he said this week at EpicFest, a Charlotte reading festival for families. “So here I was a school principal helping someone else’s kids and then I find out my youngest nephew is two years behind. It even gave me a different sense of urgency to figure a strategy out. [I wanted to figure out] how we can help young people live the best life that they can and get a great education and that’s what’s critically important. I realized we all have a collective responsibility to think differently about how we support the education of young people.”

“There’s Greatness on the Inside,” Garrett’s first children’s book, was influenced by a student in Omaha, Nebraska when he was asked to speak to children in grades K-2.

“I was trying to figure out what I can say to a 6-year-old that would be impactful but is simple enough for them to have the concept and can be something that they can carry with them,” he said.

That is when he came up with the repetitive line that is featured in the book: “If the mind can conceive it and the heart can believe it then the hands can achieve it.”

He even came up with actions to go along with it.

“As I was leaving, one of the students said ‘this would make a great book’,” Garrett said.

Garrett had no interest in writing a children’s book and didn’t even know where to begin. So on his way back home on the plane, he jotted down key phrases from his presentation and later met up with illustrators determine to create a children’s book.

“After that it took on a whole different life of its own,” he said. “It’s something for people of all ages. Whether you’re an adult, student or working with children, it’s the message that’s universal and applies regardless of where you live or who you are.”

For EpicFest, Garrett was featured in a free workshop for educational leaders and parents. After the workshop, he made it his duty to visit John M. Morehead STEM Academy to talk to students about life skills and strategies that are effective in being successful. Anywhere he goes, Garrett does a school visit.

“I think it helps me keep an authentic connection with students and it gives them an opportunity to see an author if they never met an author before,” he said. “That’s quite an exciting feeling to them because they think ‘wow it’s possible I can do this too. This is your book and you’re here in person.’”

Garrett believes that because he started as a speaker before a writer it helps him stand out from other authors who participated in EpicFest.

“I have a unique ability to convey a message and bring it to life telling stories that captivate and engage people in the process,” he said. “So I think that’s incredibly helpful. A lot of authors like to hide behind the words. I’m the complete opposite. I want to see the person. My grandmother always told me if you want to see a person for who they really are look them in their eyes and you’ll see the windows to their soul. And I never really understood that as a kid. But I do now. When I’m in front of a student, parent or audience it gives me the chance to engage in a very different way.”

Garrett said his book was essentially made because people need to be reminded and be encouraged that they truly can do amazing things.

“The glass is always half full,” he said. We just need to figure out how I can help you see that.

I get energized off of helping young people craft a vision that’s larger than what they currently see.”

Garrett has experience from both the non-profit and governmental sectors and strongly believes it is an advantage and has helped him with his greatest achievements.

“I’ve been able to see how society functions as a principal and as a state [education] advisor, so it gives me a chance to kind of see from the most local opportunity all the way across to a national stage,” he said. “I can sit with the governor and [ask] what is your state doing or what is your strategy but I can also drill down into a classroom and ask a teacher about their best practice of working with students. My ability to reach people in a variety of segments is much broader.”

Garret believes he isn’t defined by one industry. He also has major plans for the future.

“I always keep things on the horizon,” he said. “We’re working with some folks out in New York to possibly do a school based production where students can act out the characters of the book and bring them to life. We’re also working with a toy company to create a plush toy for the little boy and little girl so I’m in the process of thinking of names for the characters.”