In Search of SOMOS

By Rafael Collazo, Campaign Political Director, NCLR

George I. Sanchez students

It has been a rough winter in the East. After months of back-breaking shoveling and hoarding rock salt for survival, I was looking forward to a break from the cold. So, I shivered at the thought of going to upstate New York for a trip after it was booked. Indeed, I was met with a bitter blast as I arrived in Albany, New York, but things quickly heated up as SOMOS El Futuro, the conference I was there to attend,  got underway. SOMOS is a biannual event organized by the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force of the New York State Assembly and Latino leaders throughout the Empire State. SOMOS raises awareness of state policy issues from a Latino perspective. This year, featured speakers included New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

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New York has played an integral, sometimes divisive, role in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) debate. And, rather unsurprisingly, the CCSS featured prominently at SOMOS. The CCSS are a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. The standards were created by a state-led effort of teachers, parents, administrators, and education experts working together to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, their careers, and life, regardless of where they live.

After adopting the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards in 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo has come under fire from across the political spectrum over concerns around implementing the standards. The headlines have highlighted the attacks coming from the tea party, conservative ideologues, and even more progressive groups like the teachers’ unions. But what do Latino New Yorkers think about the Common Core, and how can NCLR help raise their voices in this heated debate?

Dia de Los Ninos 2013The SOMOS Conference answered many of those questions. There exists a passionate cadre of Latino elected officials, educators, and activists who believe Latino students can thrive with higher expectations, but who want to ensure that implementation sets up our children for success. I also encountered education activists that see the new standards initiative as a concrete example underscoring the historical inequities Latino children and English Language Learner (ELL) students have experienced in New York schools. Leaders such as Vanessa Ramos of our Affiliate, the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, have thoughtfully developed recommendations for both the State of New York and New York City on best practices for supporting Latino/ELL students within the Common Core Standards framework. Through my conversations with these inspiring champions, it became clear that Latinos in New York are ready to raise their voices in the Common Core State Standards discussion and are welcoming to NCLR’s support in this effort.

While frigid outside along the banks of the Hudson River, the camaraderie and resolve I encountered at this year’s SOMOS Conference warmed me up for sure and excited me for what the future holds. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves with leaders like Vanessa Ramos. Together we’ll make it clear that Latino children are ready to take on higher expectations.

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