By Hector Bojorquez and Aurelio M. Montemayor, IDRA
It was a mild October evening, so the meeting was held outside in the yard in part of the gravel driveway and the lawn between the main house and a guest double mobile home. The screen was a sheet hung on the mobile home wall. Tables and chairs for 80 were set out and filled as the evening progressed. Hot dogs were the main item on the menu. The bulk of the attendees spanned sixth graders through freshmen in college. All of them had some connection to ARISE, a community-based organization in the Lower Rio Grande Valley as volunteers in the summer program and others were children of ARISE’s PTA Comunitario members.
This group of young people had been brought together to be part of the IDRA’s Fair Funding Now! initiative, which has informed community leaders across the state about the state’s draconian cuts to education. This particular event was intended to engage those who are directly affected by the state’s actions: our youth.
The success of this event did not take place in a vacuum but is a result of the host organization’s long-standing tradition of engaging community youth as leaders in their own right. ARISE has developed the leadership skills of Valley youth as an expression of their asset-based philosophy that banks on the gifts and talents of every one of its members, always including local youth.
IDRA has played a pivotal role in guiding ARISE leadership to carry out projects that develop or leverage student leaders. IDRA assisted with a self-named Youth Tekie group that staffed a community technology center. That effort revealed that students were highly aware about the Texas’ accountability system, standardized tests, college admissions exams and the effects of testing on their schools. Young people demonstrated nuanced perceptions about such issues as the disparity of how well the school performed on the state-required test compared to the very few students who were actually prepared for college as assessed by the ACT/SAT.
IDRA and ARISE acknowledge, encourage and position all students, regardless of academic standing, to participate in a wide spectrum of leadership roles. It is a shared core belief of both organizations that youth leadership is an untapped yet fundamental resource. We gathered these students, because of our belief in them and to involve them in what is one of the most important issues in Texas education: the school funding crisis.
The crowd of more than 80 students introduced themselves and shared comments representing several school districts. They identified themselves as great students or so-so academically, but all knew they were an essential part of the process. They listened intently to a highly technical presentation – remarkable considering their ages and how schools generally perceive these students.
Students, just as their adult counterparts, were informed the following;
•$6.4 billion was cut from Texas education;
•Classrooms in property poor school districts lost about $26,000 more than wealthier districts;
•The emergency funds available were not touched in spite of the very obvious need; and
•Students were taken to IDRA’s Fair Funding Now! website (http://budurl.com/IDRAfairfund) where they were shown the extent of the cuts in their counties and districts. Students were unanimously shocked and dismayed. Their testimonies and questions speak for themselves.
•“Is this why Mrs. ____ and Mr. _____ are no longer at school?”
•“There are no more tutoring sessions before or after school.”
•“Is this going to get worse?”
The presenters continued to probe about their school situations. More questions and stories spilled out, “Will things stay like this?” “What can we do?” The presenters then guided the students to an online crowdmap where stories are being collected across the state. They were challenged to enter their testimonies for themselves and to help the adults in their families to report the challenges that their local schools were facing. The students also made a commitment to share what they learned with their peers and families.
These youth, these families care very much about their education. They know money really does make a difference for quality education. And they know they have a voice in what happens next.
Aurelio M. Montemayor is a Senior Education Associate, and Hector Bojorquez is an Education Associate at The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA). IDRA is an independent, private non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening public schools to work for all children.
This is an edited version of an article that was first published in the IDRA website. You can read the original version HERE.[Photo by knittymarie]