At AAMA Sanchez Charter School, Our Teachers Understand Their Students’ Struggles

By Bianca Arriazo, National Latino Institute for School Leaders Fellow, NCLR

A 19-year-old high school senior walks into an office: “I just got kicked out of class again, Miss.”

“What happened now?” asks the person behind the desk.

He responds, “I was just resting my eyes.”

In moments like this educators realize they are the keepers of a student’s academic life. They understand there is a reason for this student being sleepy and they have to share his story with fellow educators. As a team, they have to develop a plan to keep him awake and engaged in his classes so he can make it to Graduation Day.

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Photo: AAMA Sanchez Charter School

From an outsider’s view, the question lingers as to why this student is still in school and why he’s received multiple opportunities after acting out and being disrespectful. However, there’s more to this young Latino boy who wears baggy pants, has tattoos in the most random places, hates wearing his school uniform, and has poor attendance. He is being raised by a single mother who works all night at a warehouse. She is only able to tell him he needs to go to school but not able to give him a good reason. He tries to help by working odd jobs but he is influenced by his classmates, buddies, and surroundings and ends up spending his money and time frivolously. Soon after he becomes a father and faced with the urgency to mature and become responsible for another person. He gets a steady job but works long hours, sometimes until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. He knows he needs to graduate yet he has to overcome so many obstacles, just like countless other students in the public school system.

At AAMA Sanchez Charter School, our school population is 98 percent Latino, 48 percent of whom are English language learners. We are an open enrollment charter school and often serve as a second-chance school for students. Our teachers and staff make it a priority to establish relationships with our kids so when a student joins us, they know they are now part of our familia. Most of the time our staff becomes the rock in our students’ lives. Our teachers are not able to be traditional. They have to incorporate art, technology, and a student’s personal interests into every lesson so kids can stay engaged and awake in their classrooms. Our campus has to be mi casa for every student.

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Photo: AAMA Sanchez Charter School

Our Principal, John De La Cruz, frequently reminds us “parents are sending us their very best.” With that in mind, we are at the beginning of another year and we will invest all our efforts and emotions on preparing for the many English language learner newcomers, as well as all the other Latino youth who will walk through our door on the first day. We know they will come to us with many needs and gaps in all areas, especially in English language acquisition. We also know they will have to face many social challenges, becoming teenage parents, battling drug addictions, reporting to their parole officers, and just making mistakes and maturing in general. Nevertheless, we also know it will be our mijos and mijas who become our future leaders and parents.

In the end, we may not exceed expectations in all testing areas, but we sure help create and close a chapter in each one of our student’s lives.

Advancing the Promise Made in Brown v. Board of Education 60 Years Later

By Leticia Bustillos, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR

BrownvBoard_FB-06 (2)_blogsThis weekend we commemorate the day the highest court in the land declared in one voice that “separate but equal” has no place in our country and that all children, regardless of ethnicity or race, are entitled to an equal education. Because of the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954, “equity” and “excellence” are not mutually exclusive terms used to describe an ideal education. They are also expectations that we have for all children when it comes to their opportunities to learn and to achieve. The legacy of Brown v. Board of Education cannot be disputed: the opportunities available today to our community are greater than they have ever been in our history.

Today, more than four million Latinos over the age of 25 have Bachelor’s degrees or higher. In 2012, nearly three-quarters of Latinos attained high school diplomas; and in fall 2014, almost three million Latinos enrolled in college, representing a 9 percent increase over just a decade ago. Latinos hold some of the most prestigious posts in our government; examples such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor demonstrate the potential of our diverse Latino community.

While we celebrate these tremendous accomplishments, our triumphs are tempered by education challenges that remain to be addressed:

  • Less than a quarter of Latino students are proficient in reading and math in fourth and eighth grades, respectively.
  • At least one quarter of Latino youth failed to attain a high school diploma.
  • As much as 30 percent of the Latino students entering college require some form of remediation.
  • In 2011–2012, only 10 percent of U.S.-born Latinos earned Bachelor’s degrees.

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, we must draw attention to these startling facts and challenge ourselves to do more to change them. Children deserve more than access to education; they also deserve for that education to be of quality.

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This was crystallized in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s majority opinion: “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Though change has been slow and far from equal, we have reason for hope. With the adoption of college and career-ready standards in 44 states, we are holding ourselves accountable to ensure “equity and excellence” is not just the ideal, but the reality in our schools. In adopting the Common Core State Standards, we have declared in one voice that no single group of students is better than others, and that all children have the capacity to achieve greatness.

It is as true today as it was 60 years ago, that education, as Chief Justice Warren wrote, “is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.” Our children’s education should not be left to luck or happenstance. It must be a right guaranteed to them on equal terms. To do otherwise negates our responsibility to our children and undermines the legacy of Brown.