Make it so

Southwest Denver parents rally, want better schools

PHOTO: Monique Collins
Southwest Denver parents and students rallied outside Denver Public Schools' headquarters Thursday night demanding better schools.

Denver parents and students rallied for better schools outside the city’s school district’s headquarters June 5.

The protest, the latest move in a campaign by education reform organizations to draw attention to the city’s southwest schools, follows an April report addressing poor student achievement in the area’s 42 schools.

Members from organizations Stand for Children and Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, and other community members held copies of the report up, yelling, “Ya basta,” Spanish for “enough is enough,” during the rally. Children wore homemade graduation caps to represent their desire to attend college.

The numbers in the report, published in part by A+ Denver, paint a grim picture for the predominately Latino community. Of every 10 students in southwest Denver, only about four will be middle school ready by fifth grade. By the time students reach 12th grade, only about 15 percent are college ready. Padres Unidos members blame the district’s lack of concern for poor Hispanic residents, which make up approximately 84 percent of southwest Denver.

Eva Gonzalez, a parent leader for Padres Unidos translated by fellow member Monica Acosta, said, “Does anyone think the board would let this happen if it were white, middle-class families?”

Nayeli Avila, a Padres Unidos youth leader, shared her story with the crowd. Avila, the product of a DPS school in southwest Denver, said when she took college entrance exams she found out she was only at a fourth-grade reading level.

“I was embarrassed,” Avila said. “Would they let this happen in Cherry Creek?”

Both organizations collected more than 1,400 signatures demanding better schools in southwest Denver. They called for DPS to create a task force specifically focused on the issues and concerns of parents, students and teachers.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg acknowledged the parent’s claims and is working toward improving all schools.

Members of Stand for Children and Padres Unidos plan to attend the board’s next meeting to push for the task force.

“[The members of Padres y Jovenes Unidos] are working with the southwest Denver community, mobilizing residents so that our platform can be implemented in the plan in collaboration with other organizations,” Gonzalez said. “We are calling on DPS to take action to end the discrimination in our schools.”

After the rally, some parents stayed to attend DPS’ special comment session on new school proposals. The board is considering proposals for new schools for the 2015-16 school year, including programs in the southwest region at Kepner Middle School.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.