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At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for November: Patty Shastany. Read about her advocacy for early childhood education.

November Education Advocate of the Month Patty Shastany

Patty Shastany serves as a coach in Spokane for the Early Achievers program, which improves the quality of early learning in Washington state. As an Early Achievers coach, she spends most of her time in the field at childcare programs to work with directors and teachers to improve the quality of care for children. Since 2012, she has facilitated a monthly meeting for childcare owners and directors to build relationships and support each other in improving program quality. As part of that work, early learning professionals have advocated for effective, realistic regulations, and better funding to support quality improvements. Patty’s organizing paved the way for the statewide Washington Childcare Centers Association (WCCA). “I am most proud of the relationships I have built,” she says, “especially with people who want to make the world better for kids.”

Patty has known League of Education Voters Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard for years. Since Early Achievers rolled out in 2012, Patty has been facilitating monthly meetings with owners and directors of childcare programs. “Sandra came to a meeting in 2015 to help us understand advocacy,” she recalls. “A year after that, the minimum wage law passed and the unintended consequence was that childcare programs struggled to increase wages without raising tuition rates beyond what families can afford. Childcare programs have always worked on the very edge of being sustainable, especially programs that cared for significant numbers of children who received subsidies from the state. State reimbursement rates are far below the market rates. “It’s hard to maintain quality and keep teachers without adequate funding,” Patty says. “Programs need to cut corners wherever they can, which impacts the level of quality you can provide.”

“My motive has always been ‘let’s solve the problem’”

The minimum wage issue ignited the broader community of providers, which moved them to action. “My motive has always been ‘let’s solve the problem,’” says Patty. “Our programs needed better funding so they could increase teacher wages, which is why we needed to give early learning providers a voice.” Under the umbrella of Spokane nonprofit Community-Minded Enterprises, Patty took childcare owners and directors to Olympia to advocate for an increase in the subsidy reimbursement rate to keep pace with the minimum wage increases. They were able to get a 6% increase in subsidy rates, and also build relationships with legislators and educate them on the importance and challenges of early learning. “These are small business owners doing their best to provide a good start for young children. Their message resonated on both sides of the aisle. Legislators supported it from a small business perspective and because it’s about doing what’s right for children and families,” she says.

These advocacy efforts spawned the Washington Childcare Centers Association (WCCA) to provide childcare centers a voice at the tables that make decisions and policies that affect their programs. In a little over a year, WCCA has gained 300 members from across the state. Its members have been involved in the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) negotiated rulemaking process, and part of legislative early learning committees. There is still work to be done to increase funding to levels that reflect the true cost of quality.

On her own education journey, Patty says she was a good fit for school and it was easy for her. “I always did really well,” she recollects. “I had a solid upbringing coming into school – the most boring childhood in the world, which I found out later was a good thing. I had a stable, two-parent household and only two residences in my growing up years. I credit my stable environment and parents who valued education for my school success.”

Patty says, “School really worked for me, and I know it doesn’t work for many.” She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, attended the University of Nebraska Omaha, and moved to Santa Cruz, California, in her 20s, before heading to Spokane at age 33. “When I went to college, I decided I didn’t want to go into any profession that was female-dominated because it would be underpaid,” she says.

Ironically, Patty ended up earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, worked in a preschool program, and started her own family childcare when she became a parent. She has been in the early childhood education field ever since.

“In the K-12 system, we should push up principles of early learning”

When asked about what she would change in our education system, Patty has three recommendations:

  1. “Our system should recognize that learning starts in utero – at birth. This is very critical time for brain development and building strong foundations. There needs to be an attempt to change the definition of basic definition to begin at birth, instead of at age 5. We need to make sure that when children are born, they come into families that have support around them so the kids can have a positive start. It is difficult to care for a baby who has needs 24/7, and it is especially hard for families that don’t have their basic needs met. Families need communities around them. We should provide support to new parents and options that allow them to balance work and caring for their young children.
  1. “In the K-12 system, we should push up principles of early learning. Children who have had the benefits of high quality early learning programs come to kindergarten with the ability to work in groups, self-initiate their learning, and are equipped to be independent learners. Then they get into kindergarten classrooms that look like first-grade classrooms. There’s a shift in their desire to learn and their sense of self. In early learning, subjects are meaningful and integrated. Literacy is about learning to write your name – it’s about you, i.e. I want to write a note to my mom. Meaningful and individualized learning is a big thing. We should guard against K-12 principles being pushed into early learning.
  1. “Early learning principles apply up the chain. Education that is individualized, meaningful, and culturally relevant, promotes learning that sticks. Children can reach their full potential when these principles are the foundation.”

When asked why she works with League of Education Voters, Patty says, “What I know about LEV is that you have always been huge advocates for doing things better in the K-12 system and have advocated for increased funding. I appreciated being able to speak about tying early learning into K-12.”

Patty says she stays in early learning because it is her passion. “I work with teachers and families that aren’t getting a fair shake,” she says. “It’s hard from my perspective as a coach when there’s this revolving door of teachers. It’s not uncommon for young children to have as many as 3 different teachers every year. This is detrimental to the trusting relationships that children need to learn and grow. When we have stable staff, then we can do something. We need to fund this properly, and we need to compensate these teachers better and raise the bar.”

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The post Education Advocate of the Month: Patty Shastany appeared first on League of Education Voters.

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At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for July: Jennifer Muroya Thomas. Read about her education journey and the need for more educator supports.

July Education Advocate of the Month Jennifer Muroya Thomas

Jennifer Muroya Thomas has been part of our Vision Project, our journey to find Eastern Washington’s vision for what education could be, from the very beginning. She always brought students to our events. She is a member of the Spokane Human Rights Commission, where she runs the education committee. Jennifer cares about students, especially those from communities of color and underserved populations. In particular, she has a strong connection with students who attend Rogers High School, located in a low-income area of Spokane.

Jennifer ran for the Spokane School Board last year. Although she did not win, she learned that running is just as important as winning. She met Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard during that time, in March 2017, when Sandra organized a community discussion about diversity in education.

Jennifer’s father served in the Air Force, which meant that she moved around a lot and experienced schools all over the country. “I had teachers I remember and loved, and I had teachers I remember and didn’t love,” she recalls. “Teachers who change the world and do incredible work invest in students’ lives every day – they made indelible marks on my life.”

She decided to not pursue a path of becoming an educator, because she believes it is a calling – not just a job. “When you have a great educator in place, it’s a beautiful thing,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to be a part of helping change education from outside the classroom, and I’ve been able to see an impact during these past couple of years. “

Attention Deficit Disorder complicated Jennifer’s education journey, but she did not realize it until she went back to school as an adult. “It makes sense to me now,” she says. “In high school, I never read a book all the way through – I skimmed them. I would sometimes show up for class, and sometimes I wouldn’t.”  In her junior year, Jennifer remembers her first-period chemistry teacher being angry because she was passing her class with an A. “I didn’t enjoy mornings, so I wouldn’t go half of the time.” The chemistry teacher called Jennifer’s mother and explained that she was frustrated because Jennifer had so much potential, and wasn’t showing up to class on a regular basis. “But it wasn’t about me passing her class – it was about my potential,” she says. “That’s when I began to realize, even as a young person, that education is so much more than taking tests and memorizing information. It’s about developing a person.”

Looking back on her education path, Jennifer wishes she had more teachers who genuinely were invested in their students’ lives. She now has four children – three in elementary school and one in junior high. Through being in her kids’ classrooms and reflecting on her own experiences, she believes that as a teacher, you don’t get to just speak one language. “I have four kids and I speak four languages because you need to communicate with each kid in a different way. Teachers have 17-27 kids, so they need to speak all those different languages. Teachers should see this as opportunity to ‘get’ to work with these kids. For the good teachers, they don’t just look at it as a job. It’s a passion.”

“A tiny impact has a long-lasting effect, even when it’s from someone who is not a main educator”

When asked how she would change the education system, Jennifer says that we need to support educators – not just teachers, but also paraeducators, playground supervisors, vice principals, school counselors, lunchroom staff, and janitors. “It’s a team,” she explains. “All the adults at a school have the opportunity for impact, be it good or bad. A playground supervisor once yelled at one of my daughters, and my daughter tried to avoid her for the rest of the school year. A tiny impact has a long-lasting effect, even when it’s from someone who is not a main educator.” Jennifer would like educational staff to have access to more professional development and training, provided that it is not cumbersome and is offered as a support piece.

One of Jennifer’s daughters excels in math, yet she has no friends. “Her first grade year was so horrendous that I was tempted to figure out something else for her, “Jennifer says. “But her second grade teacher was so nice, so I told her, ‘I’m sorry, but my daughter will probably cause you to grow some gray hairs because of her challenges.’” Jennifer’s daughter needs to move in order to focus on schoolwork, and becomes frustrated when she feels as though she is failing. “She needs affirmations, not discipline, and if you are able to provide breaks, she can readjust and reincorporate herself back into class activities,“ Jennifer adds. “I gave her teacher all those little tips I know as a mom. She was a godsend. At the end of the year, I cried because I want her back next year.”

Jennifer’s daughter hated school. Every day last year, she told her mother that she did not want to go. “We had made a deal that we were going to give it one more year, and if she really hated it, we would figure it out, Jennifer says. “And this year, she loved school – it was a 180-degree turnaround. It was because of Ms. McDonald in that classroom. And because my daughter was supported by Ms. McDonald, then she was an easier student with all the other students in her classroom. She has one of those personalities that fills the room. But when she’s not having a good day, nobody’s having a good day.” Because Jennifer’s daughter was engaged, supported, and affirmed, she was able to be kind to her peers and keep striving, even when her classmates weren’t as responsive as she had hoped they would be. Jennifer says, “When we support teachers, everybody benefits.”

Jennifer would also like to see more counselors and social workers in schools. “Not traditional school counselors that have mainly administrative roles,” she adds. “I‘m talking about social workers who are there to liaise with families and not just be support for students, but also be there for parents and teachers.”

When asked why she connects with League of Education Voters, Jennifer says she likes that we organize conversations that need to be had, in order to think outside the box and create possibilities that do not yet exist. “We might not see the change we hope to see in our lifetime, but we can’t quit trying to make that change,” she says. “I appreciate that Sandra and other LEV staffers are willing, even when it’s an uphill battle, to continue pursuing the dialogue.“

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The post Education Advocate of the Month: Jennifer Muroya Thomas appeared first on League of Education Voters.

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At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for June: Xochilt Lopez. Read about her advocacy for children in her community.

By Ruvine Jiménez, Community Organizer, Pasco Field Office

June Education Advocate of the Month Xochilt Lopez

We are all fortunate to know Xochilt. While she is working on her own success as a student at Yakima Valley Community College, she is also ensuring that others around her focus on their success. Xochilt is a parent ambassador for the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), as well.

Xochilt first became introduced to League of Education Voters when she was president of the board at her children’s school in Yakima. Earlier this year, she went to Olympia to support ECEAP and the Early Start Act, and needed some extra help for her children. She met Julia Warth, our Assistant Director of Policy and Government Relations, who connected Xochilt with me, the League of Education Voters Community Organizer in the Tri-Cities region.

Upon meeting Xochilt, I discovered a mom who was not only concerned for her children but also for the community’s children as well. It was right after the school tragedy in Parkland, Florida. Xochilt recognized that if we do not tend to our children, the children who suffer in silence, they either hurt themselves or they lash out at their community.

To help Xochilt, I provided her with materials from the Washington Education Ombuds as homework:

After asking her which steps she had already taken, we came up with an action plan to help her children. To my delight, Xochilt read the materials I provided to her, most importantly so she would know that I was not misleading her. Xochilt followed our plan and, within a week, finally received the services she had been trying to access for her son for the past five years. (It is amazing what you can accomplish when you know what to do.)

And she didn’t stop there. Xochilt said, “Okay, what about all the other families and children who have been denied access to services? We need to host a forum to let them know how to access the education and mental health services they need for their children.”

Xochilt has been relentless in a wonderful way. We have met with school administrators to ask for a parent forum. She continues to let families know how to access services for their children. She invites families to meet with me. She invites parents and caregivers to parent education classes. And she invites parents to attend State Board of Education meetings.

On attending Yakima Valley Community College, Xochilt believes that studying creates success in life. She says, “I want to learn English, so I can better convey my ideas.”

One of her ideas is that better communication between school districts and parents would make for a world of change. Xochilt’s school district recently hosted a school safety meeting, and only about 25 parents attended. In light of the recent news events around school safety, the meeting should have been overflowing with parents. Right now, Xochilt feels a barrier between parents like herself and her school district, and it’s not just a language barrier. “Schools should be thirsty for what parents think,” she says. “Good communication is the foundation of education.”

When asked what she likes most about League of Education Voters, Xochilt says she appreciates feeling respected, and appreciates the tools we provide to parents. “LEV makes me feel like I am important,” she adds. Xochilt would like a LEV office in her hometown of Yakima, so that families there could learn how our education system works.

Every time we meet, we tell each other, “I hope you don’t get tired of me” as we chuckle. It has been a great pleasure to work with Xochilt.

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The post Education Advocate of the Month: Xochilt Lopez appeared first on League of Education Voters.

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At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for May: Maite Cruz. Read about her advocacy for increasing expectations of success for her community.

May Education Advocate of the Month Maite Cruz

18-year-old Maite Cruz is a senior at Chiawana High School in Pasco, and plans to study political science this fall at Western Washington University. Already she has testified before the state legislature in Olympia, testified before the State Board of Education, and has been a tireless advocate for her community group, Ambassadors of Lakeview Achieving Success (ALAS).

Maite met League of Education Voters Community Organizer Ruvine Jiménez during her freshman year of high school, when she started attending Pasco Discovery Coalition meetings. Ruvine showed Maite how she could become a more active advocate for her community and her peers, and guided Maite through the process of organizing community forums. Maite recalls, “Ruvine came to Lakeview, and showed us statistics about my school and how it compares with other schools.”

Maite was struck by the differences between schools from east of the Cascades and schools on the west side. “There are more agricultural workers and more poverty (on the eastside), compared to more businesses and realtors (on the west side),” she says. “Test scores were so different.”

Testifying at a State Board Education meeting in Seattle was a game changer for Maite. She says, “For the first time, I realized that my voice could make a difference. I spoke about standardized tests, because while some believed that students only needed to score a 2 out 4 on the high school test to be ready for college, I strongly believed that in order for my peers and myself to actually be college ready, we had to score at least a 3. I knew that we were capable of more.” Although Maite did not achieve the result she wanted from the State Board meeting, she did gain the attention of the adults in the room.

Maite believes that the purpose of attending elementary, middle, and high school is to become prepared for college. “We need to be ready to take the courses that make us part of the community,” she says.

Reflecting on recent advocacy work, Maite describes how her Pasco community of Lakeview used to be 3 miles from the nearest bus stop. She says, “Taxi rides used to cost a dollar to get there. Where we live – 10 people in a trailer – a dollar makes a difference, especially when farmworker families cannot harvest in the winter.”  She is thankful for mentors, who helped her talk to Benton and Franklin county officials to create a closer bus stop. “I got students to go door-to-door asking community to get behind this, and we got a crowd who came to testify” she explains. “I was proud to get the community engaged and to express their concerns.”

When Maite attended elementary and middle school, resources such as tutoring and afterschool programs worked really well for her. Maite adds, “But then you have teachers who aren’t as aware of what the student can be going through. I feel like between parents and teachers, they should be ready for us, and we should be ready for them. There were really wonderful teachers that were there for me – they were active teachers.”

Although she had supportive adults in her education journey, Maite wishes she had more specialized teachers. “In middle school, we have a PE teacher who was also our math teacher and our English teacher,” she says. “I’d have liked my teachers to be more focused on the kids they have in their class. Class sizes are too big – it’s hard with 31 kids.” Maite shared that when her classmates went on field trips, the adult-to-student ratio was always 1 to 5.

Maite envisions an education system that is more culturally aware, and more supportive of the challenges students face outside of school. “Some students in my community don’t have heaters or can’t go to sleep for a reason,” she says. “They’ll fall asleep in class because it’s warm. Kids aren’t being rude or disrespectful. Teachers should ask what’s going on. Students would tell them that it was cold in their house, and that they couldn’t afford to pay for heat or lights, so they didn’t have a heater. And it’s just little things like that. Teachers could say, ‘Try not to fall asleep again, and I’ll catch you up,’ instead of putting students on the spot. That’s something I would change if I had a magic wand.”

When asked why she supports League of Education Voters, Maite says, “We still have so much work to do. LEV has opened my eyes to the power of the individual – even students like me – to fight for change in education, and equity in education. LEV has been there in my corner – believing, as much as I do, in the value of all of the students in our state, and the heights we can reach, with the right tools.”

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Want to find out the latest in education news in Washington? Subscribe to our newsletter

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The post Education Advocate of the Month: Maite Cruz appeared first on League of Education Voters.

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