Our Children’s Struggle To Learn Is Our Fight as Parents Too

When my son was in elementary school, I noticed that he was struggling. He attended traditional schools in districts which are “better” than the ones I had attended growing up. When I talked to his teachers about my concerns, every year I received the same response, “He is a younger student and boys mature later than girls, he will catch up later.”

I volunteered at school events and field trips, and I honestly trusted his teachers. When my son entered third grade, I realized he was struggling more, but his teachers continued to say the same thing, “He will catch up later.” As he transitioned into upper grades, the material was getting more difficult for him, but the teachers didn’t think anything was wrong. In fifth grade, my son’s teacher worked with him, motivated him, and pushed him to do his best. In fifth grade, my son started to grow his interest in reading. His teacher really worked with him, but wasn’t able to help get him to catch up to his grade level. When he went into sixth grade, he started to fall behind more. I tried communicating with his teacher at the time, but she was never available.

It wasn’t until eighth grade that my son was diagnosed with a learning disability. I am thankful that I had a medical counselor at the time who guided me step by step in the process of requesting testing for a learning disability. I honestly did not know that I had the right to request testing. Once the school confirmed that my son had a learning disability and that we needed to meet for an IEP meeting to come up with an Individual Education Plan, I thought he would receive the services he needed to help him catch up to his grade level. Unfortunately, it was the start of fighting with the school administration, in particular with the school principal.

My husband and I had attended the IEP meeting, and the principal was not in the meeting but the assistant principal was at IEP meeting. The medical counselor had advised me on my rights and that if I was not in agreement with the plan, I did not have to sign because we had rights. We ended up coming up with an IEP plan for my son, but then I received a call from the school stating that we needed to meet again because the IEP was not in effect since the principal refused to sign it. I was upset but returned to discuss with principal and the team at the table. I remember the principal speaking with such authority and trying to intimidate me, but she didn’t know that I knew my rights (thanks to a medical counselor) and that I was also stubborn. The principal wanted me to agree on her terms only, she was very pushy, but I held my ground and since I knew my rights, I did not give in. In the end, we came to an agreement. After that experience, I felt blessed that I had the support and guidance from someone to guide me step by step. But what about other parents who do not know that they have rights? Parents believe that the school administration has the best interest of their child, but who guides these parents on their rights? What about those who do not speak the language and would have felt intimidated by the school principal just like she tried to intimidate me?

My youngest daughter is in third grade and attends a charter school. She is not below grade level, but I noticed that she was starting to struggle. I talked with her principal and teachers. Her principal looked at her progress from TK (transitional kindergarten) until now and scheduled a meeting with her teacher and me to discuss how to best support her. We came up with plan at the beginning of the school year on how we can support her at home and how teachers can support her at school. We check in every six weeks to evaluate her progress. I am amazed by the support she is receiving to ensure that she doesn’t fall behind and continues to grow academically. Her principal did not try to intimidate me when I approached him, compared to my son’s principal in middle school. My daughter is receiving the support she needs, and I know what I need to work on at home to help her continue to grow. I truly feel I am in a partnership with my daughter’s principal and teachers and feel the support in order for her to reach her goals.

As I reflect on my son’s experience in school and my youngest daughter’s current experience, I realize the discrepancy. I thought my son was attending schools where he would be supported because it was a better district than I had attended. Unfortunately, I did not know about the achievement gap and that the reality was that the district was not fully serving Latino students, compared to other races in the district. My two oldest children did not receive the support to be prepared for college. Out of my son’s elementary experience, only ONE teacher believed in him. His fifth-grade teacher worked with him, supported him, and motivated him to do his best. But when my son walked out of that fifth-grade classroom, he didn’t feel the support from his school leaders. This is why it is important for school administration, teachers, and parents work together to ensure that every child is receiving a high-quality education, we must all be on the same page to support our youth, to encourage our youth to attend higher education, and to help prepare them on the journey to college. Every child has the potential to be prepared for college, but we must all BELIEVE in them and give them the tools and support to help them achieve their goals. We should not lower the expectations.

I am glad that we have the option to send our youngest daughter to Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep, where school leaders and teachers believe that every child has the potential to achieve their goals. They do not lower the expectations; they work together with parents to provide the support needed. My daughter feels supported by her school leaders, teachers, and family. It truly takes a village to raise a child, and I am thankful that Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep is part of our village.

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Lety Gomez

Lety Gomez

Lety Gómez was born and raised in East San Jose. She is married with three children. She is proud to be the first in her family to attend college and receive a bachelor’s degree. When she was a teenager, Fr. Mateo Sheedy was the pastor of her parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus. She fondly remembers his passion for social justice, especially justice for the immigrant community in San Jose and ensuring that the parish youth had access to high quality education. Fr. Mateo instilled in her his passion for social justice, but for many years it was kept unlit, deep inside of her. It wasn’t until her youngest daughter was enrolled at Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep in 2014 that her passion for social justice lit up. Thanks to the Rocketship parent organizer at that time, Lety received training and the tools to use her voice for social justice and learned about community organizing. She is proud to be one of the many parents who worked hard to open their school, knowing that the kids needed and deserved a better public school. That struggle is why they named their school Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep. “Fuerza” is the Spanish word for force, strength, or power. Her passion for advocating for equity in education has allowed her to be a voice for other parents in her community who seek high quality education options. In 2014, she chaired the first parent-led Mayoral candidates forum in San Jose, where she realized the power parents have to create change in their communities. She wants to share her story with other parents in an effort to motivate them to get involved so they can advocate together, because united, they can make a change in the educational system and in their communities. In 2020 Lety moved to Texas, where she continues to advocate for equity in public education and school choice across our country.

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