Throughout my 20 year career in Houston, I have fought for Latino parents and caregivers to be considered equal members of their local school systems and to be included in the education decision-making process. The harsh reality is that Latino parents and guardians are regularly disregarded, undermined, and written off as unengaged, while in reality we know they are critical to advancing Latino education priorities. Over 60% of the students in Houston ISD are Latino, but our board meetings are a painful reminder of the lack of Latino education decision-makers and the direct impact this has on students.
In my many conversations with Latino caregivers, almost everyone I have spoken to has felt as though their voices are not being heard and that they are not supported in trying to navigate the complexities of Houston ISD. These families receive little to no guidance on how to find the right school for their kids, enroll their children in dual language programs, or advocate for their child within their campus and at the school board level. This blatant disregard for Latino families is what pushed me and Latinos for Education to offer meaningful support to these parents.
That is why we recently launched Familias Latinas Por La Educación (Latino Family Education Fellowship), a parent advocacy program that aims to build a greater understanding among Houston ISD’s Latino parents around school quality, challenges affecting their child’s education, solutions to address these challenges, and their opportunities to engage with those in power. When we kicked off in June, we began by holding space for the 20 participating parents and family members to address the dreams and aspirations they have for their children and aimed to instill a vision of themselves as leaders.
Throughout the program sessions, we will provide parents with everything from a high-level overview of the Houston ISD school system, to a deep dive into the state of Latino education. This background knowledge is key to providing families with the foundation that they need in order to propose a parent-led agenda on improving the quality of education to decision-makers at the end of the program.
Parents in the program also have access to report cards that we’ve created to specifically look at the quality of each school in their district, including the school’s ratings on kindergarten readiness, dual language programs, reading and math levels, and the percentage of Latino teachers in classrooms. My goal is to not only build this baseline understanding for the parents, but to identify the barriers that are impacting their children’s education and develop recommendations and solutions that address these issues.
After spending time practicing public speaking and building confidence, participants will have the opportunity to present their parent-led agenda to the people who are creating and enacting policies that directly impact their children. At program close they will make recommendations that best serve the diverse population of Latino students and remind Houston ISD school board leaders that Latino parents are engaged, informed, and eager to support their children.
This work is critical in our community, and my hope is that this group of 20 parents will be the start of a new era in Houston’s education system. Our inaugural cohort is entirely Latina-led and as diverse as our community itself, including mothers and grandmothers from Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Bolivia, Colombia, and El Salvador. The participants are:
Mairalina “Mayra” Gonzalez
Maria Guadalupe Zuñiga
These families will continue to work together after the program ends and continue to share what they have learned with others in their families, friend groups, and the wider community so we keep growing this Latino parent-led movement.
As a Houston native, supporting my neighbors and community is my biggest priority. This program is not only building community among local Houston ISD parents but supporting them in better understanding the ins and outs of the school system. As summertime ends, parents will be far more knowledgeable about their children’s education and be prepared to utilize their new skills to tackle the upcoming school year. I am eager to see how participants will tap into their potential and ignite and inspire their children.
Sandra Rodríguez is the Greater Houston Advocacy Director at Latinos for Education. She is a first-generation Mexican American and native Houstonian who strongly believes in working collectively to develop equitable and sustainable solutions to address issues at the core of the problem. Her grassroots and advocacy work in underrepresented ...