Collective Action Can Change Our Schools So Low-Income Children of Color in L.A., and Across the Country, Can Succeed
If I were currently a child, navigating through the challenges of this pandemic and the various issues affecting our city and country, I honestly doubt that I would be able to handle it. If I, as a young Ana, had to adapt to remote learning and deal with financial instability while also facing the very real dangers of a global pandemic, it is highly unlikely that I would have been able to not only survive, but also flourish.
When my family immigrated to the United States, I was only four years old. My parents raised a large family with a small income in Los Angeles. In order to access a better education, I had to work 32 hours a week to afford the tuition for my Catholic high school. If I had not been able to work or pay for my education, it is impossible to say where I would be today.
Now, as I raise my own son, I am aware of the privileges that I have gained in my life. These privileges allow me to navigate through a world that is currently facing many challenges, with a level of ease that my own parents, just one generation ago, could never have imagined.
My son doesn’t have to worry about having Wi-Fi access, which is a concern for so many families. We have the ability to safely use outdoor spaces, unlike many families in urban neighborhoods. As an educator, I have the means to facilitate online learning, a luxury that many families are desperate for at this time. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that only those who possess a certain level of privilege are able to navigate the reality of online learning with ease.
The realization that my younger self, at the age of eight, may not have been able to overcome the challenges posed by this pandemic has compelled me to reconsider how my organization, Great Public Schools Now, approaches its work. Our mission is to improve the quality of education in Los Angeles by investing in the creation of 35,000 seats in high-quality public schools within the district. While this goal remains unchanged, our approach to achieving it needs to adapt.
Simply shifting an outdated and struggling education system online will not suffice. Organizations like mine must focus on creating the necessary space and capacity for the significant changes that our children deserve. We need to fund unconventional methods and foster creativity to address the exacerbated needs brought on by COVID-19. It is crucial to bring together a wide range of organizations that are equally dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all children. Additionally, resources must be directed equitably towards the students, families, and communities that are receiving the least support from the education system, whether it be in-person or online.
The pandemic has accelerated our efforts to advocate for ideas and policies that can bring about lasting change in public education in Los Angeles. We have shifted our focus towards investing in solutions that directly address the current situation and positively impact the lives of students and families.
Over the summer, we introduced our Accelerate Grant Program, which provides funding for school-based projects that would otherwise be neglected due to the budget constraints caused by COVID-19. These one-year grants support initiatives in both charter and traditional public schools that aim to accelerate student achievement and bridge opportunity gaps. Some of the projects include investing in tools that facilitate family-teacher relationships in distance learning, developing a curriculum that integrates social justice, critical action, and literacy, and implementing a reading theater program where students put on their own productions.
To increase the number of high-quality schools in Los Angeles, we invest in schools that show great potential. Our Quality Seats Grant Program highlights successful initiatives throughout the city and expands their impact within the Los Angeles Unified School District and city charter schools.
Most importantly, we strive to bring together advocates for necessary reforms in public education, which is failing students of Black and brown communities, with those who seek to address inequalities in housing, healthcare, and criminal justice systems. These advocates have been working separately for too long, operating within their own silos. Through our Collective Action group, we convene leaders from various sectors in Los Angeles, including politics, business, labor, education, and nonprofits, to advocate for policies and conditions that will enhance the lives and educational opportunities for children.
We have witnessed the power of diverse, collective effort through initiatives like our One Family LA partnership. This partnership, which involves organizations such as the Los Angeles Urban League, Innovate Public Schools, Para Los Niños, and more than 25 others, has raised funds and provided $2 million in emergency financial assistance to over 4,000 families who have been economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a time of immense disruption, limited financial resources, and an uncertain future, it is easy to rely on what is familiar. However, if we want thousands of low-income students of color to not only survive this pandemic but also thrive, we must engage in transformative, responsive, and community-led collective action.
Ana Ponce became a part of Great Public Schools Now in 2019, following her remarkable 18-year tenure at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. During her time at Camino Nuevo, she was instrumental in expanding the organization from just one school to a total of eight schools. Coming from a Los Angeles background, Ana started her journey in education as a classroom teacher and founding member of the first startup charter school in South L.A. in the early 2000s, before joining Camino Nuevo in 2001. She currently serves as a national board member of UnidosUS, a prominent advocacy organization, and is also a founding member and advisory committee member of EdLoC, an organization focused on raising the influence and voices of individuals of color within the education sector, striving to enhance public education through greater inclusivity efforts.