Over one fifth of BUSD families identify themselves as Latinx. In order to better serve these families, Family Engagement and Equity Specialists Alejandra Frias and Ernesto Marin have launched a parent leadership project for Latinx families in BUSD. Supported by a Berkeley Public Schools Fund LEADING for Equity Grant during the 2022-23 school year, this project was just funded for a second, continuation year.
Now in its second phase, this family engagement project will focus on training parents as leaders so that they may become powerful advocates for their children. The ultimate goal is to better serve the families in the Latinx community by reducing fear and anxiety for Latinx families when navigating an unfamiliar educational system. From support with accessing and completing applications for school resources to deeper discussions about child psychology and topics such as youth addiction, this grassroots effort relies on Latinx parent input and leadership.
Three such Latinx parents have stepped up into important leadership roles this year. Marina Cruz, Mayra Ochoa, and Abel Salas each have students at different levels in the district and bring a wealth of passion, perspective, and experience to the project.
Salas, a Peruvian immigrant, approaches family empowerment from the perspective of his past activism. A gardener for Cal for the last 25 years, he has often mobilized for workers rights. He approaches this parent work in much the same way. Salas recognizes injustices in the educational system and encourages other parents to engage in tough conversations in order to democratically enact change and help those most in need. Often the only father at parent meetings, Salas shares his hopes for what these meetings can be: “The idea is to involve [parents] so that they do not feel alone on an island, that they feel part of a community that we can all trust.”
A trusting community is something that Ochoa values as well. Ochoa works at Sylvia Mendez where her two oldest children go to school. She sees this parent engagement work first and foremost as a means to help children in their community. She adds that it is also an opportunity for parents to develop parenting skills and confidence about the resources available to them through the district. She acknowledges that this can be daunting to Latinx parents “because it is very different from [their] places of origin.” She recognizes that “sometimes many parents don’t even know what to worry about because you don’t recognize [the problem] until it arrives.” Her hope in engaging in the parent leadership workshops is to help parents connect to resources before they’re actually needed.
After a traumatic experience at Berkeley High, Cruz found herself needing resources and support that weren’t easy to find. For this reason, she keeps social and emotional wellness top of mind when she attends Latinx parent workshops. She hopes that students, especially Spanish speaking students, can receive the mental and emotional support they need when facing issues such as depression, violence, and substance abuse. She appreciates the opportunity to learn from experts about ways to talk to children about difficult topics. “Use tu voz” is a simple phrase she learned at a parent engagement workshop and has adopted as a mantra: “This is a phrase that I love. And since I picked it up, I’ve been saying it and I tell my daughters ‘use your voice.’ That is, ask for help, or protest, or use it for nonviolence. I’m sharing it with parents, talking about the needs that each person or each parent has.”
Frias holds great faith in these emerging parent leaders stating, “Thank you to the parents, especially the leaders who are actually guiding us to understand what the needs are and trying to create better systems. This is all them! We’re just here to try to create the path for them to do great things.”
The Schools Fund is proud to support Frias and Marin and their parent leaders on their journey toward equitable family engagement and true community empowerment.