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LA parent voice: ‘It takes a village to raise a kid, and it starts with empowering parents’

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | August 1, 2018

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Each 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.)

Isabel Martinez is celebrating that her daughter is the first in her family to go to college. She graduated from Mendez High School in Boyle Heights and is heading to Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Now Martinez is turning her full attention to her son, who she hopes will also go to college. But she’s concerned that LA Unified schools are not yet giving him all the support he requires as an English learner and for his special needs.

“He needs double the support from me,” she said of her son, who is entering seventh grade at Hollenbeck Middle School in Boyle Heights. “Many students like my son need to have the same opportunity to graduate, but they don’t yet receive the same support and resources.”

Only about half of LA Unified’s English learners graduated in 2017, the district said last week as it released revised graduation rates. The graduation rate for English learners was only 51 percent. For students with disabilities, it was 55 percent. Overall, the grad rate for the district in 2017 was 76.8 percent.

Martinez said she believes schools need to get more resources from the district to train parents on how they can better support their students who are English learners, so they can reclassify sooner and have the opportunity to excel and go to college. That’s why she joined dozens of other parents and community advocates who attended the LA Unified board meeting on June 12, to support the “Realizing the Promise for All: Close the Gap by 2023” resolution, which was approved unanimously by the board.

“We are supporting the resolution because it will close the gap for our students with special needs and English learners. There’s a lot of need in my community, so we need extra support for them.”

With the resolution, LA Unified board members “publicly commit” to students — including English learners, special education students, foster youth, and those living in poverty — to provide the support they need to graduate eligible to apply to a state four-year university.

What would you like the district to know about how to better support these students?

I think the district and the schools should know that they need to extend the support to the families of those students. Most of us are families with minimal education that need a lot of help understanding why our kids are classified as English learning students, how to read an IEP plan, the special needs language. As parents, we need a lot of support on that. By helping us, the students will be better supported too.

It takes a village to raise a kid, and it starts with the parents, educating and empowering parents. Sadly in our schools, we don’t have enough resources allocated for that purpose.

Who has supported you in getting your daughter to college?

I have learned so much by being part of Promesa Boyle Heights (a nonprofit organization of residents, youth, schools, and community groups working to improve opportunities for students and families in the neighborhood). The knowledge I have acquired is immense. Their mission is to support the kid from cradle to college, and that’s how they have been helping my kids. Promesa Boyle Heights’ work is integrated in the schools, supporting them, such as Mendez High School, where my daughter graduated from. But we as parents also need to be willing to collaborate, attend the meetings, and always be ready to learn and support the work that the organization is doing, because if the district does not provide what we as parents need to be educated and empowered, then we have to look for who offers that.

Promesa Boyle Heights has been a fundamental piece in the success of Mendez High School, and the improvement we are seeing at Hollenbeck Middle School and Roosevelt High School is because they have involved the parents.

What was your own experience in school, and what would you like to be different for your children?

My parents came as immigrants to this country, from Puebla, Mexico, when I was 3 years old. I was raised in Boyle Heights and unfortunately for my parents, the language was a barrier for them to help me have access to higher education. They had no idea, they had no access to information about how to support me to get ready for college and the whole process to get there. But the story of my children will be different, because, thank God, I am aware and I’m working really hard to support them getting there.

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