Two mothers. Two engaged Latina moms. Two madres alumni of UnidosUS’s Padres Comprometidos who discovered the power of getting involved and advocating for their children’s education. They are our protagonists. “I am very involved in my children’s school parent-teacher association,” says Juana Sánchez. “I became the secretary of the parent-teacher organization of my child’s school right away,” Angely Delgado shares. Now they are both fellows at The Ed Trust Family Fellowship, and it all started with Padres Comprometidos.
By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
Juana has been living in the United States for six years. She moved from Nicaragua and is now living in the Bronx, New York, with her two daughters. “The change was very difficult: I studied in my country, but for as educated as I was, the education system in the United States is very different, and that’s why I wanted to learn how to navigate it,” she explains.
Juana heard about Padres Comprometidos (PC) from UnidosUS Affiliate The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families (CHCF), and she quickly wanted to participate: it covered everything she was looking for, from navigating the U.S. public school system, to developing goals for their children to ensure they attend college, to understanding the academic requirements for college-readiness, to modeling behaviors at home that encourage and promote learning.
The experience was so impactful for Juana that she then participated in Padres Comprometidos con CHISPA, where she then learned about the importance of science for her daughters’ futures. Now Juana was empowered, and she wanted more: she wanted to continue on this learning journey, which led her to participate in UnidosUS’s Parent Leadership Institute, a step further to become a better advocate for her children.
Angely moved from Puerto Rico when she was 19. She lived in Florida, Massachusetts, and Connecticut before establishing herself in Rochester, New York. “I wanted to change our way of life, improve it.” This mom of three was already very involved in her children’s schools, and she continued when she arrived in Rochester. After becoming the Secretary of the parent-teacher organization, Angely was recommended to participate at the Padres Comprometidos workshop led by UnidosUS Affiliate Ibero-American Action League.
“I loved it. It was an absolute pleasure. I did not only meet very nice people with whom I shared very beautiful moments, but we learned a lot. Padres Comprometidos teaches how to have a strong connection between schools and parents. It is something that many parents need,” Angely acknowledges.
Creating lasting impact
It is often said that a parent is a child’s first teacher, and we should also add that a parent is a child’s best advocate. Following this idea, the Padres Comprometidos: Parent Leadership Institute (PLI) was born to engage parents and build their leadership skills to be part of education policy conversations.
With the goal of improving people’s lives, empowering communities, and bringing change, the Institute focuses on strengthening parents’ advocacy skills by providing them with the tools necessary in order to create change at the school, district, or state level to benefit Latino students.
“Engaged parents are a lever for change in their whole community,” explains Jose L. Rodriguez, UnidosUS Director of Parent and Community Engagement. “Padres Comprometidos graduates often take on leadership roles, including service on school advisory committees or parent-teacher organizations. With leadership development and support, we believe they can make a lasting impact and empower their community through outreach to others who lack the knowledge to become involved.”
This is precisely the experience both Juana and Angely are living: these two mothers have become very involved in their children’s schools, and are working to ensure other parents are knowledgeable about the issues and develop the will to participate too. “We, parents, have the right to be informed and the duty to advocate for our children to have a quality education in an equitable way,” Juana said.
After PC and PLI, Juana didn’t feel lost anymore, and she knew exactly what she needed to do to ensure her daughter had the same access to quality education as other students in the state of New York have. Juana’s older daughter is about to start high school, and her mom now realizes that resources are not distributed equally. “The best high schools for my daughter are in Manhattan, and even if she’ll have to get up really early to do the 45-minute train ride, I’d much rather have her travelling to Manhattan,” this energetic advocate mother tells. “And all of it, getting involved in my daughters’ schools, now getting my oldest into a better school, it’s been thanks to all these programs, all the people that has supported me in this journey. If not, I would be lost.”
Angely’s experience has been similar, finding in this program tools she was unaware of, which are helping her fight for what’s best for her children. “Sometimes we go through the incorrect channels to bring up our concerns; I have now learned the steps to follow to reach the correct person in the school system, the organization and the structure,” says Angely. After reaching out to the assistant principal, the principal, and the assistant superintendent, it was now time to write “a letter to the superintendent about my children’s school,” Angely shares. She didn’t want to mention the specific issue, but Angely did say how important it was for her.
The next step
These two mothers have become an example to follow. They are not only advocating for their children, but for all children in their kids’ schools, in their school districts, and even at the state level, and also engaging other parents to get involved and partake in these activities.
Thanks to their participation in Padres Comprometidos and their committed involvement, Juana and Angely were selected for a new advocacy fellowship: The Ed Trust Family Fellowship, from The Education Trust, which started last September and will culminate this summer. This program has the goal to “equip parents and families to work alongside leaders in their communities to ensure that underserved children have access to a high-quality education.” As part of the educational justice movement, this organization supports efforts to engage diverse communities so they can advocate for eduation equity, as well as increase the political and public will to act on equity issues.
Juana has been to the New York State Senate to fight against the reduction of after-school programs: “We have been able to speak to a few senators: the power of the 30-second speech! I always ask them to think about their own children: they also have a family and I tell them that the opportunities they want for their family are the same ones I want for my family.”
On the other hand, Angely recalls all the important people they have met during the sessions at The Ed Trust Family Fellowship, like Arva Rice, from the New York Urban League: “She came to our class and we learned how to introduce ourselves and how to act before an issue with the school or the Department of Education, learned how to communicate with them through letters, how to act during a meeting, everything! Very important lessons.”
And what are Juana and Angely going to do with all those lessons learned? For both of them, the importance relies on continuing working with the parents. As Juana summed it up: “Knowledge is power, and it allows parents to become actively involved in our children’s schools.” We couldn’t have said it any better.
Congratulations to these two madres for realizing their power, becoming civically engaged, and inspiring others to do the same.