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Los Angeles moms are honored for their ‘parent power’ — volunteers who are transforming their schools and electing leaders

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | March 27, 2018

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Bielma Pérez, left, Xitlali Castro, Ramona López, Roxann Nazario, and Esmeralda Medina on Tuesday at the 25th Annual California Charter Schools Conference in San Diego, where they were honored. (Courtesy: CCSA)

Six Los Angeles moms who started out as classroom and field trip volunteers — then helped elect a school board member — were honored Tuesday with the 2018 Hart Vision Volunteers of the Year Award by the California Charter Schools Association.

Xitlali Castro, Ramona López, Esmeralda Medina, Roxann Nazario, Mireya Pacheco, and Bielma Pérez, all from the San Fernando Valley, received the award Tuesday at the 25th Annual California Charter Schools Conference in San Diego.

“It feels great receiving this recognition, but I wasn’t expecting it all because everything I do is just to see my child receiving a good-quality education. That’s all that matters to me,” said Xitlali Castro, whose son is in sixth grade at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in San Fernando.

Esmeralda Medina said, “This recognition is not only for me or for our group of moms, but I think all parents involved in their children’s education deserve to be recognized.” Medina has four children, three at charter schools. Her oldest daughter graduated from an LA Unified magnet school, César Chávez Learning Academies.

She said even though their group of volunteer moms are often called “charter moms” because of the support they received from the CCSA, most parents involved in making changes in education in her community have children in both district and charter schools.

Nazario said, “Yes, my daughter is in a charter school right now, but next year she might go to a magnet or pilot school, so we work not only with charters but for all schools in our district to improve and for us as parents to have the right to choose what’s best for our child.”

Most of these moms started volunteering and participating actively in their children’s education long before last year’s Board District 6 election. But they called their experience in helping elect Kelly Gonez key to them recognizing their “parent power.” They also discovered their own ability to make positive changes in their community, where the majority of the population is Latino and low-income and many are immigrants.

Bielma Pérez said that before getting involved in the election, she was a different person. “I was not the type of person who would talk to strangers, but when we started supporting Kelly Gonez to represent us, I went door to door, calling strangers. It was just doing something very different from what I was used to. I learned to do the extra. Just knowing that I was part of that makes me feel happy and empowered.”

Pérez, who has a son in transitional kindergarten at Fenton Avenue Elementary, says that experience changed her mindset about politics.

“I am more politically involved now because I know that people elected to those positions are the ones making the decisions about our children’s schools.”

Pérez now says she really believes that parents’ voices count. “Even undocumented people may not be able to vote, but their voices were heard through their work as volunteers in support of their candidate.”

CCSA stated that the mothers were chosen for “the instrumental role they played in helping defeat SB 808,” a bill sponsored by Tony Mendoza, who resigned from the state Senate last month amid allegations of sexual harassment, “which would have eliminated appeals for new charter school petitions and renewals, and their role in rallying families in their community to get involved in the LAUSD Board District 6 election. They put in long hours canvassing, phone banking, and sharing information with families in their community about Gonez and how her election will positively impact their communities and children.”

On the night of her election last spring, Gonez credited the network of mothers for helping her secure victory. She praised their work and called it an example of the power parents have in improving public education.

Now as those mothers are receiving the award, Gonez said, “I am happy to see Board District 6 moms being recognized for their incredible leadership in the East Valley. I met these parents at the beginning of my candidacy, and we talked for hours about how to realize our collective dreams for all District 6 kids and families. They have continued to advocate for our community beyond the election. They exemplify the power parents can have in improving the public education system so it meets the needs of all kids,” she said by email.

Nazario started out volunteering a few hours a week at her daughter’s charter school, then became more involved when the school was up for renewal by the district. But working to help elect Gonez “took our efforts to another level for us.”

“When I learned about that process, I thought it was very was intimidating,” said Nazario, who has since started a PTA at her school. “I used to believe changes wouldn’t happen in a community like ours, where often we’re neglected and ignored, but now I know you can actually contribute to change. That’s very encouraging!”

Medina said she started getting involved in finding better schools for her children when she noticed that her children were receiving “low-quality education” at traditional district schools. “Since 2011, when I started volunteering and being active in pushing for better schools, things have improved. The district is opening better options like magnets, and we have many high-performing charter schools in the Valley.”

Medina said parents don’t need to be education experts or have a degree in order to make a positive impact on their children’s education.

“As low-income parents, we are often afraid to demand a better education for our children. We’re underserved and we don’t raise our voices as we should to demand more from our local and state representatives,” she said in Spanish. “As for us, we will continue to knock on doors, to rally, do whatever it takes for our children and all other children so they can be successful with their education.”

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