Unleashing Parent Voice for Social Justice in Schools

Posted on August 5, 2019 | Nora Morales, Identity

Every few weeks, the Weissberg Foundation features a story from one of our Reframing <Washington> Empowerment Fund grantee partners to shine a light on their critical work. Learn more about these powerful organizations by visiting their websites.

Identity creates opportunities for Latino youth to believe in themselves and realize their highest potential. Through its Padres Latinos Conectados program, Identity is expanding Latino civic engagement with the creation of a formal, culturally and linguistically competent leadership-training program that includes a parent leadership network and opportunities to increase Latino parent involvement in issues that are critical to their children’s academic success. Identity envisions a just and equitable society that nurtures all youth and is enriched by their contributions.

The Padres Latinos Conectados Parent Leadership Program recognizes that a child’s first teacher and natural life-long advocate is their parent. Our program focuses on three main goals to unleash the voices of Latino immigrant parents historically marginalized and silenced in school systems. These goals are 1) Strengthening the parent-child relationship; 2) Providing background knowledge to effectively navigate Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS); and 3) Developing the natural assets that parents bring with them and honing them to become advocates for their children and other Latino children in their schools. Last year Padres Latinos Conectados trained and encouraged the leadership of 47 parent leaders from throughout Montgomery County Public Schools.

Sixty-one percent of our parents’ average median income is $35,000 a year, about 95% are immigrants, 67% had completed less than a high school education, and only 14% were comfortable speaking in English. Though these demographics may seem typical in large suburban/urban school settings, the outcomes we achieved were not typical. After going through our leadership program 18 parents testified in front of the MCPS’ Board of Education to demand more services for their children. Thirty-eight parents met with Montgomery County Councilmember At-Large at a Cafecito/Coffee Chat to share their immigrant experiences and the difficulties accessing Health and Human Services in the county. As Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Councilmember Albornoz agreed to take back concerns to the committee. When County Executive, Marc Elrich, and Council President, Nancy Navarro, co-hosted Racial Equity Conversations throughout the county 20 families participated to share their experiences in combatting implicit bias in the county. After examining the data from the MCPS Equity Accountability Reports released on April 5, 2019, parents started a letter writing campaign asking MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith to meet with Identity and the NAACP to address the increasing achievement gap and do better by their children. The campaign yielded about 300 letters and achieved its objective of meeting with Dr. Smith and building a coalition of Black and Latino parent leaders wishing to work with MCPS to close the achievement gap.

At face value some may dismiss our parents based on their background, but they would be mistaken. All our parents came to the U.S. driven with a hope to attain the American Dream and the most powerful component of this dream is the desire for a better education for their children. Our Padres Latinos Conectados understand that economic security and mobility requires an excellent education and they are deeply invested in helping their children access it—not despite their lack of formal education, but perhaps because of it. They know acutely the consequences of being ill prepared for the workforce and they work hard to ensure that their children have opportunities that they never had. As Reina, one of our recent graduates shared, “I felt heard and seen in this program. If it had not been for your support, I would have never had the courage to speak before the Board of Education.”

For more information on Identity and our programs please click here.

Nora Morales is Director of Programs for Identity and brings more than 25 years of experience in education and nonprofit leadership focused on educational equity. Starting her career as a bilingual elementary teacher, Nora continued to work in six major school districts including Compton Unified School District, District of Columbia, Los Angeles Unified, Long Beach Unified, and Montgomery County Public Schools. Prior to joining Identity’s team, Nora was the Equity Officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools and prior to that was the Vice-President of the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium in Bethesda, MD, which holds the Region I Equity Center from the U.S. Department of Education.

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