San Jose has long been home to an economically and ethnically diverse population. Nearly 70 percent of the city’s residents are immigrants and the city is home to the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. This narrative is frequently overshadowed though by the image of new wealth and success within the technology industry. A highly competitive housing market and gentrification have adversely impacted immigrant and low-income residents here, furthering the opportunity divide between people of color and their more affluent white peers.
The invisibility and poor representation of these communities also carries over to our schools, where immigrant children make up 85 percent of all students in the East Side Union High School District. Latinx students account for 46 percent of the total student population in the district but are vastly underrepresented in honors and advanced courses--they make up only 15 percent of students enrolled in calculus, and 27 percent of students enrolled in physics.
In contrast, Latinx and Black students, the latter of which account for less than 3 percent of the total student population, are significantly overrepresented in school discipline data. Latinx students comprise more than 65 percent of all suspensions, with Black students representing an additional 11 percent of all suspension cases.
These numbers illustrate how varied the educational experience is between student racial groups, which in turn has a major impact on the San Jose community. By uplifting the voices of these students and their families, Californians for Justice is empowering communities of color to push for racial justice and transform schools into a place where all students have the opportunity and support needed to succeed in the college, career and life.
“Growing up in a neighborhood of mostly low-income Mexican and Asian immigrants impacted my education. The opportunities are few for students and their families. Families often feel disconnected...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.”
– Hector Castaneda, CFJ San Jose alumni
- Californians for Justice has trained hundreds of youth of color from San Jose to be community leaders and organizers. CFJ youth have gone on to attend universities and to work in their communities as change makers and leaders.
- CFJ San Jose youth leaders, along with California Tomorrow, successfully petitioned the East Side Union High School District to develop a Bilingual Certification Program. The program was important for CFJ student leaders and others in the district as it officially celebrated their language and culture and allowed them to be recognized for those skills upon graduation.
- Student leaders also moved the ESUHSD to make A-G university entrance requirements the default curriculum for students in the district. This change helped ensure all students entering the district are given a chance to take high-quality courses and have a chance to work towards university eligibility.
- San Jose youth also led a major win for Relationship Centered Schools when the East Side Union High School District became the first district in the state to pass a resolution to adopt CFJ’s recommendations to create district-wide policies and establish early adopters of Relationship Centered Schools three campuses with plans to expand in future school years.
Our Current Work
Currently, Californians for Justice is working on several campaigns within ESUHSD to ensure every student feels safe, supported and capable of thriving. Learn more about how we make change across the state here.
Relationship Centered Schools
Relationships between students and educators are crucial to raising student achievement and ending the school-to-prison-pipeline for youth of color. Through our Relationship Centered Schools Campaign, Californians for Justice youth leaders identified that caring relationships with educators were the key to ensuring students, especially students of color, feel like they belong, are believed in, and are supported to succeed in college, career, and community life. Unfortunately, school climate surveys show that 1 in 3 students in California cannot name a single caring adult on campus.
What is a Relationship Centered School?
A Relationship Centered School breaks down the cycles of racial bias and inequity in our schools by supporting educators and students to build relationships that embrace and empower all students to pursue their dreams. They are schools that invest in school staff, value student voice, and create space for relationship building.
To advance our Relationship Centered Schools campaign, Californians for Justice is collaborating with the East Side Union High School School District and four early adopter high schools--Independence, Foothill, James Lick, and Evergreen Valley--that are committed to building relationships as the foundation for racial equity. Students are working together with administrators and teachers through design teams to identify ways they can create a culture of positive relationships on campus. From master schedule changes and additional teacher professional development, to placing greater value on student voice in school policy and hiring decisions, our teams are working to ensure that teachers and students alike feel safe, supported and capable of thriving at school.
With most East Side students coming from immigrant families, and nearly all students being first generation college students, CFJ is focused on shifting the narrative in San Jose to see that race cannot be separated from how students of color experience the classroom and our education system. We are engaging youth, community allies, and educators in San Jose to discuss how we can better center race in our words, in our actions, and in our policies to truly address the inequities youth of color face in our schools and communities. By putting racial equity at the forefront of our work, we hope to promote innovative ideas and the honest reflection that is needed to break the cycle of racial bias and inequality.
Through our Relationship Centered Schools campaign, we believe we can make significant progress in closing the achievement gap, ending punitive discipline practices, and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers in San Jose. CFJ is scaling this work at schools in each of our four regions and hope to eventually see it adopted by districts throughout the state.
Equity & Engagement through the Local Control Funding Formula
Californians for Justice was instrumental in securing the adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013. The new school funding formula is a key part of our goal to promote equity and accountability in the public education system, bringing real racial justice to our community.
Since the implementation of LCFF, CFJ has worked with East Side San Jose youth and families to understand the district goal of serving the needs of low-income, English Learner and foster youth. We launched and have continue to support a LCFF Student Advisory Committee which was one of the first in the state. The Student Advisory Committee has proven to be a critical mechanism for youth of color to be uplifted as valued decision-makers and stakeholders in and outside of the school district. Californians for Justice organizers and youth leaders work side by side with the district to engage underrepresented families and students throughout the Local Control Accountability Plan process. This unique and perhaps unlikely partnership between a community advocacy group and a district is a model of the positive culture shift we hope to see through LCFF.
“The process [participatory budgeting] definitely has affected how students and teachers see school. It’s really empowering, and makes students see that this isn’t just school, this is my future, and we can do something about it.”
– Angel Fernandez, Overfelt High School Alumni
In 2015, CFJ youth leaders worked with Principal Vito Chiala of Overfelt High School to run the first school-based participatory budgeting process in the state. Through this model, students, parents and Overfelt staff decided how to spend $50,000 through a democratic decision-making process. The process increased student and community engagement, and created a stronger school climate built on trust and relationships.
A current focus in ESUHSD is working to address equity through it’s LCAP and through a new district Equity Committee that CFJ is a part of. Through these spaces CFJ will continue to ensure that students and families are well-informed of the ESUHSD Local Control and Accountability Plan, are able to push for greater equity and accountability, and are meaningfully engaged in the decisions that impact them.
Youth Leadership & Civic Engagement
To ensure our goal of equity and racial justice in schools and our communities is achieved, CFJ is actively developing a multi-racial youth base in San Jose that is inclusive of LGBTQ students, foster youth, low-income and immigrant youth. We are actively growing our base of high school youth to include perspectives and promote leadership of students traditionally underrepresented in decision-making. We understand that these youth are the current and future leaders our city and state need, so now is the time to support them in using their voices for change.
CFJ provides leadership development opportunities throughout the school year and summer to ensure our youth leaders gain the political education and valuable organizing skills they need to lead social justice movements. Every year we hold a intensive five-week Summer Youth Leadership Academy, a Fall Leadership Bootcamp, and a Statewide Leadership Retreat in the Spring in addition to weekly youth meetings and workshops. Youth then apply what they are learning in real-time by taking leadership roles in school governance and in our advocacy campaigns.
Through our civic engagement work, CFJ is building an integrated voter engagement strategy with young voters of color in San Jose and across the state to ensure our policies and elected officials reflect their needs and interests. San Jose youth take active roles in leading “Get out the Vote” drives, voter education events, and youth-centered candidate forums for local elections.
While some of our youth may be too young to vote, they are not too young to care. In June 2018, CFJ student leaders contacted over 1500 young voters of color to vote yes on Measure G to help ESUHSD avoid a budget crisis! CFJ was the only grassroots effort getting out the vote to pass Measure G in the community.