Language Immersion Programs and PTA Inequities

Hi Friends!
I hope those of you who were able to attend the Women’s March over the weekend enjoyed it. Let’s keep talking about how feminism and racism are intertwined and how those intersections can be strength and opportunity for centering POC in these conversations. If you attended, please feel free to share your observations and thoughts with the group. For example, was the vast majority of the attendees white?
Our county has many advisory committees and I found out that the Community Development Citizens Advisory Committee has a vacancy. Check it out for more information and to apply. One of our members linked me to the County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development’s list of Affordable Housing in the county. It’s interesting to see where these are located and that there are available units.
I’m working on learning more about how the County budget works and I’ll share what I find out with all of you. It looks like that will be one of the places where we can apply some pressure and understanding how it works will help us be more targeted and potentially helpful in making suggestions or making proposals that might be considered.
I attended the local chapter of the NAACP meeting this week, along with one of our other members, and it was a great experience. We were fully welcomed, given a chance to share why we had chosen to attend the meeting. Representatives from the local Democrats organization and Our Revolution were there and seemed to be regularly in attendance. I was very encouraged to see that these organizations are prioritizing the voices of people of color in our community in their work on inequality. The meeting centered around priorities for the year and I look forward to hearing more about how those develop and how our group can amplify and follow those efforts. Topics discussed included the importance of the upcoming elections in November, policing and criminal justice, education and scholarships, and the need for more members. I will certainly keep you posted. Anyone can attend the meetings and anyone can become a member.
Language Immersion Programs: One of our members asked about the role of language immersion programs in schools in relation to segregation and I found the following resources that I wanted to share:
(1) Huffington Post article: particularly, “Experts say that if implemented properly, dual language programs not only encourage students to appreciate other cultures as well as their own, but can even help desegregate districts where minority students and their white counterparts attend separate and unequal schools.” and below that, about half-way down when it discusses how immersion programs are good for improving diversity at that school.
(2) Educational Linguist article: particularly, “During this conversation we both reflected on how deeply racial hierarchies shape our society, the difficulties in challenging these hierarchies even in programs where two languages are used in instruction, and the ways that providing privileged White students language skills that will make them marketable without instilling in them an awareness of their White privilege may inadvertently serve as a tool for maintaining the very hierarchies these programs were originally designed to dismantle.”
My overall takeaway from these articles is that immersion programs can be equalizing for their students, but only if those programs are not simply to give white students marketable skills and ignore the culture and value of the native-Spanish speaking students. I know some of you have children in immersion schools in our community. What has your experience been? How do you think our county is doing on this? What challenges/successes have you observed/experienced?
PTA Fundraising and Inequity: I also came across two articles from the Center for American Progress (CAP) related to PTA fundraising and its impact on inequity within a school district. I actually spoke to a couple of CAP’s analysts and they were very excited to hear that our county has a grant fund to address inequities and I’m hoping to learn more from them as we refine our best practices for the county-wide PTA fund.
I heard from the NAACP chapter that the local Food Assistance Center is in need of food donations primarily, and also volunteers. That organization currently serves 2200 families a week. You can organize a food drive at your school, workplace, place of worship, etc. and there are wonderful tools available on their website. Please consider supporting them — you can check on the kinds of foods they are in particular need of on their website.
I’m also slowly learning more about how our county budget works, especially in terms of how the schools are funded. If you own property in the county, you probably received your Real Estate Assessment information recently. There is some really helpful information included with that about the budget and the current challenges of slower than expected growth. Additionally, schools are funded by a majority of our local taxes, not just real estate, and the county gives the school district a set $ amount, which the school district then decides how to distribute. There will be budget shortfalls in the near future and we will need to advocate, but we should also understand that there will be cuts.
I hope you have all had a great January! On to February and Black History Month! Please let me know if there are events/opportunities that I can share with the group or feel free to send them out. Thanks!

Lead by Following

Hi Friends!
Over the holiday weekend, my husband and I had a conversation with our 5-year-old and 3-year-old that went something like this:
5yo: Why do we have a holiday on Monday?
D: To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.
5yo: He was shot.
D. Yes, he was.
5yo: He was shot by someone with light skin and he had dark skin. Why?
D: The person with light skin was angry about the changes Martin Luther King wanted to make.
5yo: He wanted to make the world better.
D: Yes. Do you know who he wanted to make the world better for?
5yo: Dark skinned people.
D: Yes. Things used to be very unequal for dark skinned people.
M: And there are still inequalities today. That’s why one of Mommy’s groups is working on fixing that.
3yo: Are there dark skinned people in your group, Mommy?
M: That’s such a good question! There are a few and we are hoping to have more join us. Because it’s really important for light skinned people to listen and to follow dark skinned people on issues like that.
5yo: Light skinned people should follow?
M: Yes. We lead by following.
I share this to show that all of our children really are listening and absorbing the messages about race that our actions, our words, and our environments model for them. It is so important to take time to discuss issues around race explicitly when they come up, in age-appropriate ways, and to create opportunities for those issues to come up, through the things we read, celebrate, and watch. Be intentional about making time to have these conversations with your children so they won’t be as awkward and uncomfortable as we are discussing race. And, of course, so they can continue the work of making equality and equity for all a reality.
One of our members sent me information about how Seattle is linking its approach to housing and education. The organization that posted the article, How Housing Matters, which is linked to the Urban Institute, is really fascinating and may have quite a few resources for us as we push our community leaders to be more intentional about the way our county is developing and supporting its residents. Linked from that article is more from the Urban Institute on “Developing Housing and Education Partnerships.” This research can back up members of our group who are willing and able to encourage collaboration at the County level — let’s keep this on our radar!
I’m working on learning more about how school districts elsewhere in the state/country have approached desegregation in their schools, so if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear more about them. We really can learn from efforts that others have undertaken rather than starting from nothing. Let’s see if we can find some model examples.
One of our members let me know that the local Historical Society currently has an exhibit on the history of race in our community up right now at the local Historical Museum. Definitely worth checking out sometime soon.
The local NAACP branch had to reschedule its January meeting to Monday. I think I’ll be able to attend, so if anyone wants to join me, please let me know. The meeting is from 7:00–8:30 pm and all are welcome.
Keep your heads up!

School Equity and District Segregation

Hi Friends,
I was reminded recently about the organization Dignity in Schools, which is a national effort and can inform our local efforts to address systemic issues.
A VERY relevant article was published at Vox by Alvin Chang called “We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does.” This is research we can use to help us push for intentionally desegregating our schools. It will take concerted, intentional action to make it happen. I do have mixed feelings about it because we heard from so many community members of color that keeping communities together is important to them, which means that we need to follow those communities in understanding how/if desegregation can help all of our students and how we should go about doing this (which the article does not elaborate on). I’d love your thoughts on this.
One of our members also told me about being trained as an Allyship facilitator, which allows her to run Allyship workshops with Service Never Sleeps, a local non-profit. From their website: Service Never Sleeps is an Arlington nonprofit that “mobilizes communities to exercise “Allyship,” an active way of life that utilizes bridge-building to ensure equality, opportunity, and inclusion for everyone.” SNS facilitates a training workshop that establishes the new term, “Allyship,” as an active way of life, revolving around the “CLAIM” acronym — Care, Learn, Act, Influence, and Maintain. The workshop teaches individuals about the causes of social injustice, how to be effective allies for marginalized communities, and how to actively influence and educate others.
I have received some positive feedback about the Portland School District equity documents (from my update last week) and I’d love to hear from more of you about how this might be received in our community. I believe that presenting this information to individual School Board members would be more beneficial than bringing this up at a School Board meeting when they don’t have much opportunity to respond. Does anyone have thoughts about the best way to do this? And what kind of documentation/support information would be helpful to have prepared ahead of time? I remember someone telling me that they are most responsive to community members who come to them bringing potential solutions to a problem, so I’d like to approach this with that kind of intention. I welcome any feedback on this.
I also came across some great resources on the National PTA website related to diversity and inclusion, which I think many of our PTAs could improve upon. The toolkit is here. I’d love to hear from you if you bring this up with your school’s PTA and what kind of responses you get. Let’s share our ideas for helping our PTAs reflect the community they are supposed to represent.

Goals for the New Year

Hi Friends,
Happy New Year! I hope all of you had a rejuvenating holiday season.
VACOLAO’s annual Immigrant Advocacy Day is January 18th in Richmond. Please let me know if you’re interested in participating and I’ll get you more information. There will be a training on legislative advocacy techniques prior to that date.
I was following up on an article in The Washington Post about PTA fundraising inequities and read up on Portland, Oregon’s school district, which not only created a foundation to create equity grants, but also wrote a Five Year Equity Plan in 2011 that looks really wonderful. I have reached out to them to learn more about the foundation, but also to find out how their plan went in practice. Can you imagine having such a clearly outlined and honest document in our county? Does this look like something we can use as a model as we advocate for our school board to take action on towards addressing equities here?
Related to our collaborative goals, I started making a list of organizations in our community that are working on social justice (racial and economic) issues to help with our ability to collaborate with and among them. And then I came across a similar list of organizations that have been partnering with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington and I’m wondering whether creating this list is actually useful for our group or might be another example of duplication of effort. What kinds of resources would help all of you coordinate with each other besides my weekly emails?
Also, check out the “Love Resists” campaign the UU Church has going on.
I have received 9 responses to the survey at this point, and overwhelmingly our group is interested in Education/Schools (100%), building Community Awareness (78%), and Parenting/Raising Kids (67%). These results make me think that these areas are where we should focus our energy for now.
Given that, I’d like to propose a plan for the first quarter of 2018:
(1) Group meetings. We’re planning to host a meeting with a County Board member to discuss schools and overall county equity issues. I’ll put together some potential dates for another large group meeting and send that out for feedback after we set the meeting with the County Board member so we can identify an appropriate venue.
(2) County Board FY 2019 Budget Decision. The Superintendent will submit his budget request at the School Board meeting on Thursday, February 22. The County Manager will present his budget at the County Board meeting on Saturday, February 24. There will be about two months for public comment and the County Board will vote at their April meeting. The county-wide PTA is getting a working group together to explore budget suggestions/advocacy as well and I’ll keep you updated as I hear more about their efforts. We can also ask the County Board member about the best ways to have our voices heard about this issue.
(3) County-wide PTA involvement and grant fund — Please find ways to support the schools your children attend by encouraging participation in the county-wide PTA (each school can send a rep to their meetings, once a month on Mondays). This is a powerful advocacy group and the more voices we have, the more likely it is that we will represent the county’s students effectively. Please also advocate for contributing funds to the grant fund, or in applying for funds depending on your school’s needs/abilities. The more attention this gets, the better we can raise awareness about inequity among our county schools.
(4) School Board efforts. We will keep our eyes on the Elementary School Boundaries review especially since it directly affects a couple of schools that are located on the south side of our community. More immediately, the School Board will be addressing Inclusion in January and February, and will make a decision in March. This looks like an opportunity to address policy, so the more vocal we can be about this, the better. School Board meetings in January and February are on January 4, January 18, February 1, February 15, and February 22.
What are your goals? How can we help each other?