April 22, 2005

ACORN Education Forum

By Luis Alonso Pérez

Supporting a child’s education is the best gift a parent can give. But supporting them means doing more than driving them to school, it means getting involved in the decisions that affects the future of the student’s education.

That’s why on Tuesday April 19 the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now of San Diego (ACORN) organized an education forum in Mountain View community center. The goal was to bring together different individuals and organizations that take decisions in education: teachers, principals, elected officials like senators and parents, with the purpose of sharing ideas and solutions to develop a true education reform.

Education is one of the main issues for ACORN. “We are a community organization, we are not experts in laws, but we are experts in organizing the community and make things happen”. Said Victoria Samaha, head organizer of ACORN San Diego, “That’s why we got together, so we can decide the legislative priorities for the 2005-2006 school reform”.

More than eighty parents showed up at Mountain View, but they didn’t stay quiet, they made questions and expressed their concern for their children’s education.

The forum began with a testimony about the importance of education by Guadalupe Jimenez, mother with children in Emerson-Bandini. Followed by the presentation of the elements an ACORN school should have.

Most of the meeting was dedicated to a question and answer session between parents and a panel conformed by teachers, principals and elected officials.

One of the main deficiencies in San Diego schools is that classrooms have more students than they should, and most of them don’t have enough books for kids to take home. Robin Whitlow, executive director of the San Diego Education Association, mentioned that even if it’s more expensive, there should be fewer students per classroom, because individualized instruction allows students to advance faster and more efficiently. She also said that students with the biggest learning difficulties, like the ones learning English, should be in smaller classes.

Joe Lara, director of the MACC Charter School, said that schools need to understand and respect the language and culture of our students.“Our children shouldn’t have to change for the schools, the schools should change for our children”.

Another big problem is that many low income schools have under qualified and inexperienced teachers, there aren’t enough substitute teachers and many programs have been cut, like the bilingual, musical and physical education programs.

Terry Pesta, president of the SDEA, expressed the need for programs where senior teachers guide younger or less experienced teachers. He also stressed the need for hygiene “a clean environment is very important for schools. None of us wants to go to work in a filthy office building, yet many of our students have to go to schools that are not clean”.

Robin Whitlow said “we have lost many of the subject areas that cause our students want to stay and want learn, a literacy block of three hours is not a compelling reason for a student to stay”. There is also a need for a program that helps students plan their entrance to college, reducing their possibilities to higher education.

A subject that all panelists made a special emphasis is that parents should start getting involved in their children’s education. Luis Acle, school board president, said that parents should get to know their teachers, so they can identify and correct any of their kid’s problems. They should also continue the work of a teacher at home. “Somebody needs to be the adult in the household, don’t expect your child to be it. You need to help and encourage them to do their homework, even if you don’t understand the content of their homework”

David Alvarez, district liaison of Senator Denise Moreno, invited parents to stay involved in their children’s education, and if possible, also look out for their friends. “Also worry about your children’s friends who don’t have a good role model, because you could be it”.

Parents need to stay organized and make their voices heard, send letters to your elected officials and participate in the meeting where the decisions that are taken affect their education. ACORN invites parents to participate in this summer’s planning meeting, from the work done there, a proposal for an educative reform in San Diego could be presented in September.

If you wish to know more about the elements a decent school should have or want to know more about ACORN and future meetings visit their web site www.acorn.org.

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