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LA parent voice: To find better school options for your kids, ‘You really have to fight for it!’

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | August 21, 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.)

Finding the right school where her son could succeed was a struggle for Mary Najera. For years, she didn’t know how to find other public school options. Now, she is dedicated to making that journey easier for other moms like her.

Najera founded “Moms in Action for Better Education,” an advocacy group for parents in East Los Angeles. Dozens of moms from Boyle Heights, a low-income neighborhood in East LA, have joined Najera in her mission to educate parents in their community about school choice.

“They need to fight for better education opportunities for their children if their schools are failing them as they did my son,” Najera said.

Her son attended LA Unified elementary and middle schools in Boyle Heights. Even though he was identified as a gifted student in third grade, Najera said he was not getting the support he needed. At the end of middle school, she was so concerned about his lack of progress that she asked for him to be held back, but the school refused. When she eventually found a charter high school for her son, he was tested by that school and found to be reading at a third-grade level.

“I share with them my personal experience with my son. I hope by knowing my story, they realize they need to look for better school options for their children,” Najera said.

Najera meets with parents at least once a month to share what she has learned over the years. She also helps them organize meetings with LA Unified board members or attend board meetings and speak about what’s most needed at their children’s schools.

Members of her group were at the June 12 school board meeting to support what Najera called “Monica’s (Garcia) ambitious resolution,” titled “Realizing the Promise for All: Close the Gap by 2023,” which commits the district to provide the support all students — including English learners, special education students, foster youth, and those living in poverty —  need to graduate eligible to apply to a state four-year university.

How did you find a better school option for your son?

My son was deemed gifted when he was in third grade while attending an LAUSD school. He was in a magnet program and failing miserably in middle school. He was getting F’s, so I asked the principal to hold him back, and he said they couldn’t do that, so they were literally setting him up to fail in high school. Everything changed when he was given an application to apply to the Green Dot Public Schools’ Oscar De La Hoya Ánimo Charter High School. We’re a founding family of that school, where the first two years he really struggled. When they evaluated him, he was reading at a third-grade level, so he was staying in school until 5 p.m. and he had to go to school two Saturdays a month. Two years later, he was where he was supposed to be.

At the same time, his best friend went to Roosevelt High School, where my son was supposed to go. Just a few months later, his friend dropped out, joined a gang, and he got shot and killed.

My son was angry with me and told me it was my fault he didn’t go to Roosevelt with his friend  and that if he would have gone with him, his friend would still be alive. And I said, “No, mijo, you’d be dead too.”

Two years after that, my son graduated from Oscar De La Hoya with four acceptance letters from different universities. He graduated in audio engineering in film and recording from Cal State Los Angeles and is now getting his masters at USC. If my son, who was really failing, could do it, anybody can do it, but you really have to fight for it!

What’s one of your biggest concerns about schools in your community?

There is so much that needs to be fixed in the district than just writing up resolutions.

There’s a big divide in our Boyle Heights community. The division starts at the school because there’s a lot of charters in Prop. 39 space (shared campus space between traditional and charter schools) in Boyle Heights and East LA. I think someone needs to do something to address the issue that adults are setting kids against each other, adults against adults, and it is spreading out into the rest of the community and is getting ugly.

What is your main request for your board member?

Mónica García (her board representative) knows what we need as parents. She knows me very well. She knows that parents like me need more action from the district in making sure those resolutions are really implemented by the schools and teachers. We don’t see positive change happening fast enough in schools in our community, and they need to tell us how they are going to make sure those goals are going to be met.

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