I am a parent leader at my daughter’s school in Redwood City, California, and also work as a community canvasser at a nonprofit educational advocacy organization called Innovate Public Schools. My role at Innovate is to connect with families in the community, and find potential leaders who want to get involved in parent groups working to transform their public schools. The population we work with are mostly immigrants from Latin America, and have children in low-income schools that are the most impacted by the academic gap. My position is usually public-facing; I spend my days knocking on doors, speaking to people, and organizing in-person meetings.
However, since the start of the quarantine period, my job has completely changed. Now I work through phone calls, and am also transitioning to making video calls via Zoom. I’m glad to be able to connect and listen; we all need a compassionate ear. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed many parents are facing big problems. By staying at home, some suffer from depression and anxiety. Others are facing severe financial problems, such as being laid off from work. Many believe they will not be able to get their old jobs back. They cannot make rent, buy food, or pay for basic needs, like utilities. For tenants, rent is a huge concern. Although the state of California and our County of San Mateo has paused rents, they will still have to repay everything owed, which is very stressful. Home and small business owners are also experiencing similar issues.
I do my best to connect the families I speak to with resources. While they are very grateful to receive donations from foundations and community organizations, it’s not enough. There’s still a serious shortage of resources, especially for this population. Many people in my community do not have documents, which disqualifies them from most of the resources the federal government offers, such as stimulus checks. They also fear that if they apply for aid, they will not qualify for citizenship in the future.
Although many parents are struggling daily to survive, I greatly admire how they remain so concerned about their children’s education. In each call, I ask if their children are getting enough support from their schools. With the current situation, parents are realizing they need more support. They want to participate and take action. Although many parents and schools are not used to collaborating so much, now parents want to be more involved in their schools’ decisions, such as attending “Cafes with their Principal,” and educational workshops on different topics. In my group of Innovate parent leaders, we meet regularly with politicians and school district leaders to express our opinion and learn from them. During the pandemic, we’ve continued to organize. Last week, we organized a meeting with the San Mateo County Superintendent of Education’s Office, and 40 parent leaders. We shared our concerns about the lack of adequate education during quarantine, and asked for more support for children and families.
It’s important to listen to the families most impacted by the crisis, because they have very clear ideas of their needs. In community organizing, we have a principle that says, “stay within the experience of your people.” I’m happy to talk with parents, and listen to their concerns. I also tell them that the shelter in place is a temporary situation, and when our children return to school, we need to support them in being successful. I invite all parents to organize themselves virtually (through online forums perhaps) and share their experiences while communicating what they need for their families’ well-being. We invoke the solidarity of our community; there are many generous people. Working together, we will all succeed.
Latest posts by Vanessa Carbajal (see all)
- Conectando Con Familias Durante la Pandemia y Organizando Para Cambio - April 29, 2020
- Connecting with Families During the Pandemic and Organizing For Change - April 29, 2020