By Edit Ruano
Through my Coro Center for Civic Leadership fellowship, I have had opportunities to be integrated into the culture of various organizations. My first days included sitting on the floor of a future city council member’s home and conducting interviews with youth nonprofits for San Francisco. My four-week internship with CTA was meant to help me understand the role that labor organizations play in shaping political dialogue.
Upon visiting three distinct East Oakland schools on my first day, however, I realized that my time with CTA would do more than expose me to labor and organizing. It would also allow me to witness the power of educators in shaping communities when given sufficient financial and societal support.
The purpose of the three school visits was to highlight the success and impact of the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), which is a statewide program that increases funding for struggling schools to help them in their mission to educate and inspire youth. QEIA funds assist schools in closing the achievement gap by reducing class size, improving teacher and principal training through individually selected seminars, providing paid time for teachers to reach out to students and plan curriculum, and adding counselors to high schools.
At each school we visited that day, teachers spoke of the tremendous impact QEIA has made in their lives. Teachers at New Highland Academy described how the arts program was supporting efforts to have the more quiet children take an active role in the classroom. They also told us their school now felt more like a community or even a family. Educators at ACORN Woodland Elementary were especially happy with the fact that QEIA gave them an opportunity to collaborate on schoolwide curriculum that supported each student’s learning. Students at Madison Middle School passionately spoke about how they felt supported at their school and were now thinking of which universities they wanted to attend. As I listened to these moving accounts, I could relate each story back to the QEIA research I had read. QEIA is supposed to make schools better, but I also learned that QEIA can make communities better.
The stories that I did not expect to hear were those of three parents whom I had the privilege to eat lunch with at ACORN Woodland Elementary. The three parents, two male and one female, were from an underprivileged neighborhood. Prior to QEIA, they had never taken an active role in their community or in the schools of their children. Additionally, they all spoke very little English, and at the beginning of the luncheon communicated through a translator.
The parents related stories about how their students were receiving the special help they needed in the classroom and how teachers were genuinely reaching out to parents to include them in the learning process. The two fathers, who stated that most men in their neighborhoods were not active in their children’s education, now attend ELAC (English Learner Advisory Committee) meetings and bring their friends. The mother, shyly at first, told a story about how one of her daughters does wonderfully in school thanks to the instruction of her teachers. She said that her other daughter was struggling in class but is now showing marked improvement because of the school’s focused programs. All three believed that the school’s progress was helping their communities overcome enormous obstacles.
With each story told at lunch, each parent became more engaged and emotional, more willing to take risks in support of their school and the educators housed within it. By the end of lunch, they were all speaking in English, without a translator, to Jo Anderson Jr., senior adviser to the U.S. secretary of education. It was an amazing transformation to behold. These parents were emboldened. It seemed that QEIA had transformed their lives as much as it had transformed their children’s school.