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A mother’s journey to find the best schools for her kids: The story behind new school expansion group’s ad campaign

Sarah Favot | June 17, 2016

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Maria Silva worked hard to find the right schools for her kids.

As a stay-at-home mom, she could spend the time and effort it took to research schools and she was willing and able to drive her daughter from their home in Bell to downtown Los Angeles to attend a magnet high school.

A mother of three, Silva is the star of an advertising campaign for a new initiative to expand access to high-performing schools to tens of thousands of students in Los Angeles’ low-income areas.

The ad campaign was unveiled Thursday at Great Public Schools Now’s launch at a news conference at Heart of LA in Westlake. The six-figure advertising campaign features three television ads and a two-minute video that was posted Friday on the organization’s website as well as a digital and print advertising campaign.

In the spot featuring Silva, she explains that her daughter was a “completely changed person” when she switched schools.

“Enough with politics,” Silva says in the commercial. “All of our children deserve the school that fits regardless of where they live. Please help us bring high-quality education for all of our children in Los Angeles.”

Maria Silva, featured in an advertising campaign for Great Public Schools Now, spoke at a news conference Thursday.

Maria Silva, featured in an advertising campaign for Great Public Schools Now, spoke at a news conference Thursday.

Silva’s three children have attended traditional district schools, charter schools and district magnet schools.

Silva’s oldest daughter, Sarahi, attended her neighborhood elementary schools. The first was Liberty Boulevard in South Gate near where the Silvas lived, but then the school’s boundaries were changed and when Sarahi was in third grade, she had to attend State Street Elementary School, which was farther away.

“It didn’t make sense at the time, but we had to follow what the rules are,” Silva said.

Sarahi then enrolled for two years in a district middle school, but Silva realized her daughter wasn’t adapting well in the environment.

“She would come home crying because there were other kids who were struggling, because there were other kids on drugs,” Silva said. “It hurt her so much that it affected her grades, so I decided I needed to take my daughter out of that environment into something that fits in her best interests.”

Sarahi graduated at the top of her class from State Street Elementary, but her grades weren’t the same in middle school.

“She needed a very different type of school. I felt like her needs weren’t being met. So I started looking for something better,” she said.

But Silva understands that just because the school wasn’t the right fit for her daughter, it doesn’t mean the school is “bad.”

“There are other students who are thriving in that school because maybe their personality was different. For my child, that wasn’t the case,” she said.

Sarahi liked structure. Some teachers know how to run a disciplined classroom, while other teachers seemed to let the children run the classroom, Silva said.

Magnolia, a network of charter schools, was opening a middle school in Bell where the Silvas now live. Silva didn’t know much about charter schools, and some of her neighbors were upset about the school’s arrival, but she thought she’d give it a try because a friend’s daughter was doing well at a charter school.

Sarahi went to the charter school for 8th grade and graduated as valedictorian.

“At the end, she will tell you, ‘It was the best school I’ve attended. My teachers made me feel like I mattered, that whatever I was going through mattered’,” Silva said.

Now that Silva realized there were options, she dug into finding a high school for her daughter.

“I learned that I could look somewhere else, and I’ve been doing that ever since,” she said.

She opted for a district magnet school for her daughter’s high school – Downtown Magnets High School in downtown Los Angeles.

Sarahi thrived at the school, her mother said. After changing her mind a few times about what she wanted as a career — from forensic scientist to police detective — her future career path was formed in debate club where she discovered her love of forming an argument.

Silva said Sarahi spent her days in her room researching and rehearsing speeches.

“I thought, this child needs to get a life,” Silva joked.

But it paid off. Sarahi received a full-ride scholarship to Hampshire College, a private liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts. Sarahi, now 18, is studying international jurisprudence. She wants to be a lawyer.

Silva has also spent time researching schools for her two sons.

The middle child, Samuel, went to a magnet program at Miles Avenue Elementary, a district school in Huntington Park, before he went to Magnolia Science Academy #8 for middle school like his sister and then onto Downtown Magnets High School. He is starting 11th grade.

The youngest, Isahi, 11, will be in 7th grade at Magnolia Science Academy #8. He also attended the magnet program at Miles Avenue Elementary and Academia Moderna K-5 Charter School in Huntington Park.

Silva is already looking for a high school for Isahi. She is researching magnet schools that specialize in the medical field.

She says many parents don’t know about other options for schools until it’s too late. That might change if there are more options in the community.

“I would love for schools to open with the same curriculum, with the same ideas as the ones my kids attend further away,” said Silva, who said she got involved with Great Public Schools Now through a friend and interviewed to be in the commercials. “I agree with that completely. I’m here to support that because that’s what I believe.”

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