Last Thursday, Dos Pueblos High School's newly minted Parent Engagement Committee (PEC), a subcommittee of the Equity and Excellence in Education, organized and presented a school orientation program for all incoming parents of freshmen students. This was the second project in PEC’s action plan following graduation from Just Communities’ Family Dialogue program. It was like a dream come true for the school.
This group of eight Latina parents, with the involvement and support of their PTSA president, overcame many obstacles along their path to parent leadership. That night they stood together as one, marshaling their collective strength, courage, talents and, above all, a commitment to persevere no matter what. Since the meeting, including Principal Shawn Carey's remarks, was conducted entirely in Spanish, the school’s language access team provided simultaneous interpretation with headphones for English-speaking parents.
A cultural clash was not unexpected but the program proved to be a learning experience. And it piqued an interest in EEE by other immigrant parents from China, India, Italy and even Sweden.
However, it was the white parents entering the room who noticed right away that this meeting was going to be very different than what they were accustomed to. Some of them expressed annoyance at being offered headphones. Several commented, "Why are we being given headphones?" and, "I can't think right when I have to listen to this through headphones." Exactly.
There was a brutal truth present in that room, hitching along for the ride like an uninvited guest. Some not-meant-to-be-overheard comments cut to the chase: "This meeting is being run by Mexicans and we are the ones paying the taxes." Some white parents left, although most stayed.
The Dos Pueblos Family Dialogue graduates, all Latina moms, and their PTSA president, shook their heads but were undeterred. They had invited all the school's incoming freshmen parents to help them feel welcome and informed, they had set out flowers and refreshments, and with the help of their PTSA president they produced and distributed the first batch of 1,000 bilingual school information booklets that will be provided to every parent who comes to Back to School Night.
But it was those parents who stayed who were the ones most impressed with the group’s new, colorful information booklet paid for by the PTSA. It listed all the essential information that every parent needs, such as the counselors, the student programs and clubs, parent programs, and a calendar with all the meetings and events for the year. This was a keeper.
This benefit was intended for everyone. The parents who stayed and did not walk out, “got it.” The PEC parent leaders were not there by accident. It was purposeful, it was strategic, and it was the culmination of the school's sustained investment in parent education and involvement.
Carey's determination to transform her school was infectious, and the message has not been lost on the school’s growing number of advocates for equity in education. It’s an investment in strengthening our community and a harbinger for the future. It’s a time for building bridges and not fences.
The hard work of the school's PTSA Committee on Equity and Excellence in Education was paying off. The diligence of the school's bilingual family liaison was yielding dividends. And there were epiphanies along the way. Within one year these parents also witnessed something not unlike a beautiful monarch butterfly emerging into a new world: a remarkable turn-around by the school's PTSA president, who grew her own wings of cultural proficiency and is now the wind beneath the wings of these parents who are ready to soar.
Collective impact. How can you possibly measure all this with charts, tables and fancy-colored graphs? What counts for these parents was that EEE could be that incubator that provided a safe space for them to learn and grow together. They were the graduates of the school’s Parent Project classes as well as graduates of the school’s Padres Adelante leadership classes, and now they were also graduates of Just Communities’ Family Dialogue at Dos Pueblos High.
Nothing would now hold them back. Five of the parents courageously stood in front of the crowd and gave their testimony. Their remarks were passionate and with resolve.
"For the first time in my life I feel I can stand up here in front of people and talk to you in a program at this school," one said.
"Thanks to the Parent Project, to Padres Adelante and to Family Dialogues we feel we are able to do this," said another.
"Because of Family Dialogues, we learned how to organize and put together an action plan," another added.
Above all, said one, "we want to thank our school principal, Shawn Carey, for making this possible and for making us feel like we are part of this school, and that we, too, can make a contribution.
On the cover of the new parent information handbook is the PTSA's motto, "PTA. Every child. Once voice." For this group of newly energized Latina parents, the motto should now include, "PTA. Every parent. One voice."
— Sal Güereña is an educational advocate representing the Dos Pueblos High School PTSA. The opinions expressed are his own.