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LA parent voice: Homelessness won’t stop me from being involved in my kids’ school

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | April 25, 2018

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Every week, we sit down with Los Angeles parents to talk about their students, their schools, and what questions or suggestions they have for their school district. (See our previous interviews.)

Erika López and her two younger children have been homeless for two years. She’s endured domestic violence. An older son didn’t graduate high school, another is in prison.

She wants a different life for her younger children and sees their success in school as the key. And for them to succeed, she has realized she needs to be involved in their school — something she didn’t do with her older sons.

“I want them to graduate high school, to go to college, and make better decisions than my older sons did.” Her daughter is in third grade and her son in fifth grade at Glassell Park Elementary School in northeast Los Angeles — the same school she attended. “And not only my kids, but my granddaughter too,” who is also at Glassell Park. “And all the other kids in this community, this is my home!”

López attends every meeting and school event. For three years, she’s been the president of the school’s English Learner Advisory Committee, and she leads a group of parents who function like a PTA.

“I am determined to break the pattern that I had, and that I learned from my own mom, of not showing up to any school meeting, parent conferences, open houses. I think we are not the only ones. It happens too often in my community, particularly among Latino parents.

“I want to make sure every parent can hear my experience and will decide to be involved in school because that’s the only way to improve the chances of our kids having a better life.”

López has also joined a Parent Problem Solving Group that started this year at her school. Three of these groups launched this year in board member Ref Rodriguez’s District 5 to bring parents together to identify problems at their schools and form solutions. “Parents in PSGs play an active role in the improvement of Los Angeles public schools and the transformation of our school district,” Rodriguez said in a Facebook post.

Each group will define the most urgent problem at their school and will draft a solution. They meet every week until June, when they present their final plans.

López leads the eight-person group at Glassell Park. They are focusing on getting more help for English learners. Her son has not yet been reclassified, and she has seen his grades suffer from being homeless.

“Going from one place to another and everything we have gone through with their dad has had an impact on them. But God is helping us, and I’m sure they will improve once we overcome this situation and they have a place to focus on their homework,” López said.

Sometimes they stay at shelters, other times they use vouchers for hotels where they can stay for up to a month. They have been on a waiting list to find a permanent home for over a year.

López said she has found support in the school’s principal and teachers. Teachers are willing to work with her children after school, and the school is helping them with supplies and tutoring. “They have helped me one hundred percent!”

She wants to give back to the school that means so much to her by helping other parents get involved so all students can succeed.

What has changed since you have gotten involved in your school?

Everything! It’s been day and night being engaged with school. I didn’t know anything about the kind of support students need. With my older sons, I was never involved in school, and that’s why only one of them graduated from high school, but he engaged in gangs and drugs and he’s now in prison. Being involved in school, especially in communities like this, really makes a huge difference. I have learned how important the parents’ voice is to helping the kids in our community. My situation is not good, but it has helped me open my eyes. Now I know I can do more for my kids. I’m acting now before it’s too late.

Why do you want other parents to be part of the Parent Problem Solving Group?

Our school is losing students and losing money. If we don’t improve what we have, parents are choosing to take them to other schools. But this school is important for this community, for me. We have 360 students, and only eight parents attend all meetings, all trainings. We are the same ones all the time. We already know what we want for our kids, but we want other parents to know. We need more parents to be involved, we need them to care for their children and for all children in the community.

What are the most critical needs in your school, and what do you want to change?

We need to get more support for English learners. That’s why I became ELAC president for the last three years to help their parents know what they need to know. We need to fix the (electronic sign outside the school) because that’s how we let parents know of our meetings and events, but we don’t even have money to fix that. We need ramps for handicapped people. We need money for after-school tutoring. We need funds for programs that prepare parents with technology, how to support our kids with homework using technology.

I believe helping parents to get involved in school is my calling. I want to let all parents know that my situation is not good, but I still want to learn how I can better support my kids with their education, and how other parents can do the same. We’re not alone! There’s always help, we just need to ask. The doors are open, we just need to give our best.

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