California Educator

May 2011

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lowship, I have had opportu- nities to be integrated into the culture of various organiza- tions. My first days included sitting on the floor of a future city council member’s home and conducting interviews with youth nonprofits for San Francisco. My four-week internship with CTA was meant to help me understand the role that labor organiza- tions play in shaping political dialogue. Upon visiting three dis- tinct East Oakland schools on my first day, however, I real- ized that my time with CTA would do more than expose me to labor and organizing. It would also allow me to wit- ness the power of educators in shaping communities when given sufficient financial and societal support. The purpose of the three school visits was to highlight the success and impact of the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), which is a state- wide program that increases funding for st rugg lin g schools to help them in their mission to educate and in- spire youth. QEIA funds as- sist schools in closing the achievement gap by reducing class size, improving teacher and pr in cip al training through individually selected seminars, providing paid time for teachers to reach out to students and plan curricu- lum, and adding counselors to high schools. QEIA empowers communities T hrough my Coro Center for Civic Leadership fel- At each school we visited that day, teachers spoke of the tremendous impact QEIA has made in their lives. Teachers at New Highl and Academy de- scribed how the arts program was supporting efforts to have the more quiet children take an active role in the cl assroom. They also told us their school now felt more like a community or even a family. Educators at ACORN Woodland Elemen- tary were especially happy with the fact that QEIA gave them an opportunity to col- laborate on schoolwide curric- ulum that supported each student’s learning. Students at Madison Middle School pas- sionately spoke about how they felt supported at their school and were now thinking of which universities they wanted to attend. As I listened to these moving accounts, I could relate each story back to the QEIA research I had read. QEIA is supposed to make schools better, but I also learned that QEIA can make communities better. The stories that I did not expect to hear were those of three parents whom I had the privilege to eat lunch with at ACORN Woodland Elemen- tary. The three parents, two male and one female, were f rom an underpr ivileged neighborhood. Pr ior to QEIA, they had never taken an active role in their com- munity or in the schools of their children. Additionally, they all spoke very little Eng- lish, and at the beginning of the luncheon com- m unic a t e d through a trans- lator. The parents re- Edit Ruano l a t ed st o r ies about how their students were re- ceiving the spe- cial help they needed in the classroom and how teachers were genuinely reaching out to parents to include them in the learning process. The two fathers, who stated that most men in their neighborhoods were not active in their chil- dren’s education, now attend ELAC (English Learner Advi- sory Committee) meetings and bring their friends. The mother, shyly at first, told a story about how one of her daughters does wonderfully in school thanks to the in- struction of her teachers. She said that her other daughter was struggling in class but is now showing marked im- provement because of the school’s focused programs. All three believed that the school’s progress was helping their communities overcome enormous obstacles. With each story told at lunch, each parent became more engaged and emotional, more willing to take risks in support of their school and the educators housed within it. By the end of lunch, they were all speaking in English, without a translator, to Jo An- derson Jr., senior adviser to the U.S. secretary of educa- tion. It was an amazing trans- formation to behold. These parents were emboldened. It seemed that QEIA had trans- formed their lives as much as it had transformed their chil- dren’s school. EDIT RUANO CTA has taken part in the Coro Fellows in Public Affairs program for more than 10 years. Coro fellows are emerg- ing leaders who are placed in several organizations dur- ing their fellowship. The fellows spend their time at CTA shadowing leaders and staff, conducting policy research and engaging in current political issues. CTA and other labor unions are an important part of the Coro program because they allow the fellows to see how working peo- ple join together to have a voice in their workplace, in their community and in their government. MAY 2011 | 23

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