Personally Invested in the Success of East Palo Alto Youth
By: Martha Perez, a veteran of the Parent Involvement Worker Program
My job as a parent coordinator has taught me to never give up when there is failure because there are several methods to reaching parents. Working at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in East Palo Alto for 14 years taught me that no matter how many flyers you send or automated messages and signs you post, what really works is making a connection through personal calls. I have met parents who either did not finish or never attended school and who are unaware of how to be involved in their children’s education and well-being. Parents who also do not fully speak and understand English or those who work several jobs would often refrain from attending important school meetings and events. However, many are willing to get involved in other ways through donating food, money, and supplies for events. All of them are concerned about providing for their children and give what they can. I helped students and parents with the high school application process by giving them the confidence to know that I would be there to help interpret and answer their questions.
Last summer I began working at EPA Academy High School where I met students who had attended Cesar Chavez and were familiar faces. Students usually come to my office to discuss personal problems, future plans, college, school progress and sometimes just to talk. I continue to make phone calls to parents of students who are having trouble in classes, need after-school assistance, and have behavior problems and unexcused absences. I also make positive calls based on student improvement, help with the college process, and give reminders about important events. Some students ask me, “Why did you call my parents?” and my response is always: “Because we care about you and we know you need the extra help to do a better job!”
It is a privilege to work for my community with the people who have the same goals as I – people who came to the United States leaving families, roots, and their culture all with the same purpose of having a better future for their children. These people work over time, sometimes with fear of deportation and with their hearts broken because they have to put work before their loved ones.
Sometimes the cost of living makes students quit school because they have to work to help their parents. When I hear that, it breaks my heart and I wish I could do something about it. My dream is to see every single student walk across the stage not only from high school but also from college!
One student I worked with, Maria, was a hard-working student, but in the middle of her senior year she started doubting her potential after somebody told her “she did not have what it takes to go to college.” What they meant was that she did not have all the credits required to go to a four-year college, but as a result she almost didn’t make it to graduation. Yet through perseverance, she enrolled in a community college and hopes to transfer to UC Berkeley, the university of her dreams.