By Victoria Acuña
The Latino Education Coalition (LEC) held a community forum on Jan. 22, giving parents, activists, teachers, and other members of Denver Public Schools (DPS) an opportunity to discuss issues Latinx youth are facing in schools, and ways the coalition can better serve them.
The event began with a performance by Mariachi Juvenil de Bryant–Webster—a youth mariachi group from Denver’s Bryant Webster elementary school—and featured comments from Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval and State Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutiérrez.
The forum consisted of an overview of the LEC and its past achievements, and a working lunch where a handful of various groups came together to discuss questions put forth by the coalition.
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo, a retired professor and former department chair of Chicanx Studies at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, discussed how the LEC has become a strong voice for the community through its advocacy for HB19-1192 and upcoming publication of the La Raza report.
HB19-1192, also known as the “Inclusion of American Minorities in Teaching Civil Government” bill, requires public K-12 schools to “include the history, culture, and social contributions of American Indians, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans” in their curriculum. Dr. Del Castillo noted that the bill’s roots go back to the 1969 West High School Blowout walkouts against discrimination, where the students demanded that their school enforce the inclusion of their history, culture, and language in the classroom.
Dr. Del Castillo also highlighted the work he and the LEC are doing on the La Raza report, a qualitative and quantitative report on various issues and dynamics Latinx students and families face within DPS schools. The report will answer the overarching questions: “What are the opportunities for Latina/o student achievement within DPS, and what are the barriers hindering such achievement?” The report will be finalized this summer and presented to DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero and the DPS Board.
Alex Moncala, the forum’s emcee, introduced Dr. Kathy Escamilla, Professor Emeritus at University of Colorado Boulder. Dr. Escamilla, a member of the Congress of Hispanic Educators (CHE), gave a brief overview on the history of the Consent Decree, which was established in 1999 to address issues Multilingual Learner (MLL) students were experiencing. The decree requires DPS to ensure that these students “receive grade-appropriate content instruction that is designed to enable them to perform at grade level, reach their full potential, and be on track to graduate from high school prepared for success in life, work, civic responsibility, and higher education”. However, implementation of the decree, which was revised in 2013, has not been as successful, and this became a topic of discussion during the next part of the forum.
Forum attendees came together in various groups during lunch. Led by a facilitator, the groups had a discussion around questions regarding the academic achievement situation for Latinx students in DPS today, opportunities offered by DPS to these students and their families to further educational achievements, barriers or challenges they face, and what the LEC can do to help overcome such challenges.
Parents expressed frustrations with feeling left out and sometimes unwelcome in schools, especially for those who are undocumented. Teachers shared their struggles with trying to fit ethnic studies into the curriculum, and the difficulties that come from an overall lack of funding for their schools. They also offered the perspective that not all teachers know how to teach ethnic studies, given that the majority of the teachers in DPS are white.
Indigenous community members were also a part of the forum, speaking to the intersection between the Latinx and Indigenous communities in Denver. A few pointed out the effects of colonization and white supremacy on the school system – “I want people to know that Indigenous people can graduate from high school,” said one grandparent.
At the end of the forum, attendees settled on a few priorities that the LEC should consider for this year, such as uplifting work that is already happening and developing Latinx leadership programs. Many felt that the LEC should move forward with enforcement of the Consent Decree. “We have the legal precedent”, mentioned one attendee.
Overall, the forum was very collaborative and engaging, and a good sign of what’s to come for the improvements the Latinx education community wants to make for their students and families.
Victoria Acuña is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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