Familias Latinas Making a Difference in Houston’s Education System
By Sandra Rodriguez, Advocacy Director for Greater Houston
Change is inevitable. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of encouragement. Or having community members stand with you in solidarity.
Last year, we brought together a group of 17 Latina mothers and guardians and 1 fierce abuelita to form our first cohort of Familias Latinas por la Educación. While these families all had different backgrounds and experiences, they shared a commitment to exercise their voices to create tangible change in Houston’s education system so their kids can have a better educational experience.
It hasn’t even been four months since our group of mothers presented their vision for change to Superintendent Millard House, but their advocacy is already making a difference.
Last month, the Houston Independent School District School Board approved a new change in the way they conduct business and will now offer simultaneous interpretation services during all school board meetings. This change, which our mothers played a key role in manifesting, will make a significant difference in the lives of Spanish-speaking families who have always wanted to attend and participate in school board meetings, but were unable due to language barriers.
This change did not happen overnight. It took multiple meetings with school board members, and having families show up to school board meetings and making their concerns consistently heard for their ask to be taken into consideration. At a recent school board meeting, several trustees not only greeted our mothers after the meeting, but thanked them for continuously showing up to these meetings. This gesture signaled to our mothers that their presence is being felt and making a difference.
But engaging at the school board level is just the tip of the iceberg and our families have been putting their advocacy into action in so many other ways.
Noelia Fadic, for example, a mom with students at Benavidez, Jane Long, & Wisdom, was interested in bringing Familias Latinas Por La Educación to her school when she realized that not all families were as active in communicating with school leaders as she was. She was fearless and intentional with her leadership – showing up and discussing with the principal the challenges she wanted them to focus on – and she was invited to serve on a shared decision-making committee, as well as a feeder pattern wraparound services advisory committee, that is helping make a difference in her child’s school and overall education experience.
Noelia is a prime example of how family advocacy in education can create a gateway for strong, respectful communication between families and administrators or board trustees.
And advocacy can look like more than showing up to a school board meeting, or joining your local school governing committee. It can also look like inviting others to attend a meeting with you, or volunteering to participate in a community service event. Our families have been doing just that, at every Familias Latinas por la Educación meeting, they’ve been bringing their neighbors and friends who are also interested in joining our program.
I like to tell people that we are building a community together, one of families who have the solutions to the change they want to see in our local schools and in our community.
That is why I’m excited that we will continue our work with Familias Latinas well into 2022. In 2022 this work includes hosting monthly sessions for 17 alumni, increasing our reach into several more neighborhoods throughout Houston, and doubling our cohorts in the summer season.
We want to continue building a fellowship that connects families, neighbors, friends, and people from all walks of life, because it is within a safe and comfortable network where important conversations can take place, families can be empowered, resources can be shared, and change can continue to spread.
Sandra Rodriguez is the Advocacy Director at Latinos for Education where she leads the organization’s efforts to elevate Latino voices in decision making to increase educational outcomes. She previously served in the Houston Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office and Houston Health Department overseeing program planning.