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Equity That’s About Racial Justice – Hector Castaneda

The Institute for Educational Leadership held their National Family and Community Engagement Conference this past weekend. The conference brought 1700 participants from across the country to engage in conversation about family and community on a deeper level.

Our Californians for Justice student leader  Hector Castaneda participated as keynote speaker, sharing his indispensable experiences and bold vision for education to create and sustain the conditions for all youth to thrive.

Good afternoon everyone! My name is Hector Castaneda. I am a student leader at Californians for Justice, and a recent graduate of Alum Rock in San Jose, California.

When a Latino student goes to school, their family goes. When Black, Latino students are suspended, a family is impacted. When a student is shot and killed by the police, entire communities weep. When parents are afraid to drop their kids to school, entire communities are impacted. Since the election many immigrant students are living in fear– wondering if today is the day that my parents– or the people that I love will be taken away. This constant fear impacts them on a social, emotional, and academic level. These fears  have rippled through our communities for decades.

So when we talk about equity- when we talk about Family engagement– it’s not just an academic success strategy. It is a strategy for survival.

It is a strategy that does so much more than challenge the Opportunity Gap. It challenges the Belief Gap; the belief that regardless of what you look like, where you come from — you are meant to succeed.

Because for equity — it’s not about how we get some students to succeed, it’s about getting ALL students to succeed.

Here in California– it took Californians for Justice and community organizations like Inner City Struggle, the Parent Action Leadership Network and more than 10 years to win the first equitable funding system for education in America. Our equitable funding system was passed just 4 years ago.

And now- folks have gotten impatient- they say it’s not working. But let me ask you this: Do you know of an example where we managed to overcome decades of racial inequality and poverty in just a couple of years?

The truth is, if we are really doing the work of Equity– it is going to be hard. If we are doing the true work of Equity then Family Engagement is essential to improving our schools and changing how we see the young people who attend our schools.

Equity is: Yes having an equitable funding system for Education– that’s a step in the right direction. Equity is knowing that school policies aren’t effective policies if we aren’t meaningfully engaging students and parents. Equity is about understanding that for the 70 percent of low-income students & students of color in our schools that raising achievement for students is not enough.

Today, 1 out of 5 students go unnoticed in a single day. And 1 out of 8 students across California have a parent that’s undocumented.

Growing up, My parents have told me stories of how my mom and her 9 other siblings, would sometimes only have coffee and tortillas to eat. How my grandparents worked in the fields to try to make a living.  Growing up, as I parallels between their life and mine. As a child I grew up not in a house (even though we had one), but at our small family bridal and photography business called Fotografia Medina in Newark. My entire family spent the majority of our time at the business – for us there was a mini-fridge, TV, books, and computers since we spent our whole day there.

For my parents, there was hard work: making quinceanera favors, taking photos and videos (then editing them), and sometimes dealing with people upset about their services not being how they wanted – in an effort to make a living and provide a better future for us.

But my parents knew that working at the business was not enough to ensure I had a successful future. Growing up in a neighborhood of mostly low-income Mexican and Asian immigrants impacted my education. The opportunities were few students and their families. Families often feel disconnected.

In middle school, I didn’t feel connected to my teachers, peers, or my future. That all changed when I went to my high school because my high school engaged parents and students, so that we had genuine opportunities to be engaged and invested in our futures. To my parents, I was finally getting a path to college and success. So it became important for me to make sure that families– students are authentically and meaningfully engaged in our schools. To make sure that I was on the right path to succeed and chase after my dreams. For families like mine, student engagement is more than student voice. It is also engaging families and communities in the work for equity and educational justice because when I am speaking to legislators and stakeholders, I represent myself, my family, and my community.

So in 2015, when the State Board of Education started to create an accountability system so that California’s new equitable funding system would live up to it’s promise of equity– for them a good school was purely about academics. But for me, a Latino student, a good school is not just about academics, test scores– merely achieving– a great school knows that family, student engagement, and a positive school climate is just as important as academics.

And it was in 2015– that we advocated for the board to understand that in fact if we are to have the equity in our schools we have to measure schools for school climate- like suspensions and chronic absenteeism.

We can’t think about student engagement without family engagement in the fight for equity. This is especially true when we do have parents and students constantly showing up for equity  so that all students thrive despite their background. And it’s important to note that equity cannot be measured by outcomes. A truly equitable system exists when we view engagement as a place of shared decision-making, leadership, and accountability.

My vision for education is one where student and families are the leaders of our education system. Because we — parents & students are most powerful when our voices are echoing throughout local and statewide policies together. 

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