Are our children stats?

Last Thursday at the request of Supervisors, Moses Zapien and Chuck Winn, I attended the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors Special Session on Education that was held at the San Joaquin County Office of Education’s Wentworth Education Center (SJCOE) in Stockton. It was a public hearing, so I needed not a special an invitation, but I wouldn’t have known about it, so I thank both Supervisors for personally inviting me.

The room was full mostly with county employees, a few parents, the Hon. Richard Silverman who is a council member from Manteca, and his wife. We all sat in the audience listening attentively to the presentation given by County Superintendent of Schools, James Mousalimas and his staff about the state of education on Early Childhood Education, K-12, Adult Education, and how the SJCOE is helping many enter the workforce through specialized, technical and vocational training. The county even has a program similar to the Job Corps program, but instead it works in conjunction with AmeriCorps.

Wes Bowers from the Record, wrote a report about it so I won’t rewrite what he already said very proficiently, but I’d like to address what I think is the core of failure or success in public education: The parent involvement.

My mother instilled in me the concept of community service. She taught me its importance; that community service holds our elected officials accountable, and reinforces the need to always to be on the lookout for repetition or continuation of programs that fail our communities, our children, and ultimately their future.

As an immigrant, and Hispanic, I find pride in knowing that in many areas of our country Hispanics are no longer a minority, but a majority. But with this increase comes responsibility.

The SJCOE presented us with some astonishing figures, jaw dropping! There are 145, 000 students enrolled in San Joaquin County K-12 public schools with 50.5% being Hispanics. Graduation rate from high school in the county is 82%; students in reduced meal program is at a whopping 62.8%, and only 26.55 % of graduates meet the requirement to enter a UC or State’s University!

While the presenters shared some concerns, edification for each other and gratitude for all their respective colleagues in all school districts for the superb job they are all doing for our children, I couldn’t help but to think about my mother.

Thirty-four years ago, she fought tirelessly for implementation of better accountability, assessment and parent participation in her children’s education at public schools. She believed, as I do, that if the public schools’ system didn’t establish a set of guidelines to ensure parents didn’t become dependable of it, our children would eventually fail or better yet, our systems would fail them.

Being Hispanic or poor are not ingredients for failure in life. On the contrary, they are motivation to succeed. K-12 education programs that are designed to address what is believed to be helpful can be a detriment to a child’s success if they add to the parent dependability on a system that continues with same non-changing policies.

I heard the same problems and how to address them at the Board meeting last Thursday as I did 34 years ago. At that time we had bilingual education. It was proven back then that it was a deterrent in a child education and an abuse of taxpayers’ money, so it was pretty much banned in 1998. The problem with bilingual education prior to Prop. 227, was that it focused mainly on the Spanish speaking immigrant, something so similar to what I heard last Thursday. Today we have English Learners programs, and I wonder if they actually work?

Some parents need to step up to the plate. These parents drop off their child at school every morning with a peace of mind that their child will be looked after in or after school programs that are specially designed to help their children but instead and over time, make these parents become dependents of them. It seems that these parents appear never to stop to think that maybe, just maybe, they should be the ones helping their child after school with their homework, and be as committed to their child’s education as Little League parents are to their child’s favorite sport every weekend.

For almost a year, I fought the Manteca Unified School District to make Driver Education an elective course instead of prerequisite to graduate from high school. I succeeded, but it wasn’t easy. We have a school district in the City of Manteca which mandated for years that a student had to complete Driver Education to graduate. Why? I said no and I stood up to the Board of Trustees and I said that parents should decide if their child gets Driver Education not the School Board. Effective this year, Driver Education is an elective.

There is something very wrong when only 26.55 % of our high school graduates are meeting the requirements to enter a UC or State’s University. And, the 62% of our kids in poverty in our schools can only be combated with education led by parents, not teachers. Our teachers, educators, elected officials and public servants can only do so much, but when they see no collaboration from the parent, they will see fit to implement programs that sustain our children, but won’t move them forward.

It does take a village to raise a child, but it takes parents to build it. There numerous ways parents can be participants in their child’s education besides dropping them off at the curb every morning. Attending schools meetings; signing up for text notifications or Remind; email their child’s teacher at least once a month to be in the loop; volunteering in anything to improve their child’s education. And for those non-English speaking parents, there are night, weekend or online ESL courses one can take. The more we know, the more we interact with our new country, the more successful our families. If we all did that our nation, our communities would be as productive as we want them to be. We cannot be nor shall we depend on our elected officials, or school administrators to make decisions or create programs that will eventually alter our children’s future without our leadership. Doing nothing is not only unacceptable, but it allows our children to become statistics for officials to talk about at their meetings. We owe it to our children because after all, we brought them into this world.

Caring is believing; participation is accountability; leading is achievement.

* Al Moncada is a member of “Measure G” Citizens’ Oversight Committee, Manteca Unified School District. His comments do not represent the views of this committee, but his own.