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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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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 February: Brenda Yepez. Read about her advocacy for English Language Learners.

February Education Advocate of the Month Brenda Yepez

Brenda Yepez is one of the founders of a student group called the Ambassadors of Lakeview Achieving Success (ALAS), which began her advocacy journey. Brenda attended our Tri-Cities Student Legislative Roundtable in December, where students spoke with legislators about their community work, and she testified at the State Board of Education January meeting to ask for additional supports for English Language Learner (ELL) students. In addition to advocating for the Dream Act in Washington D.C., Brenda herself is a DACA student attending the Washington State University Richland campus.

She became involved with League of Education Voters through Ruvine Jiménez, our Tri-Cities community organizer. Brenda recalls, “By the time I met Ruvine, I was a member of the ALAS community group, and I am now in my fifth year with them. I started as a high school student and now I’m in college, so I’m a mentor.” At last month’s State Board of Education meeting, Brenda shared ideas of what she and her peers thought about education, specifically the new 24-credit high school graduation requirement. “Ruvine asked me to talk about my experience and thoughts as a college student, being engaged with ALAS. They’re high schoolers and some are about to graduate,” she says. “I described how I went through high school and what changes I saw.”

Her education began in Mexico, where Brenda lived until 2nd grade. “It was pretty hard because they didn’t have as many resources – I didn’t get the education experience I wanted there,” she recalls. After coming to the United States, it was difficult for Brenda to learn English. “I wasn’t able to speak it or fully write it until 5th grade,” she adds. “I went out of my way to learn it. My older sister and I were the only ones in our family in school at the time. Kids were bullying us, which made it hard to get engaged.”

Middle school was better for Brenda when she became involved in sports. In high school, she served as president of the M.E.Ch.A Club, a Latino student movement that embraces history, education, and culture, and she joined other clubs, as well. Brenda was chosen by the Pasco School District to attend a Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) conference in Seattle. “It was a great experience,” she says. “I met school directors from all over the state.” Brenda worked hard in senior year to earn scholarships. “It was a pain to take high level courses, apply for scholarships, and have to work an after-school job.” Because of her efforts, Brenda was selected to receive the Principal’s Choice Award.

Now that Brenda is in college, she is vice president of the Dreamers Club and president of the M.E.Ch.A Club at WSU Richland. She also volunteers at La Campesina Radio Station KRCW 96.3 FM in Pasco. “I’m majoring in communications,” she explains. “And I hope to transfer to WSU Pullman in the fall.”

When asked about DACA, Brenda answered that she is anxious about the Congressional negotiations. She is one of the volunteers for United We Dream, and went to Washington, D.C. in November and again in January to take an action. She says, “I’m disappointed in both parties. We’ll see what happens.”

As the second oldest child in a family of eight, Brenda believes that having resources to navigate the system is key to a great education. “It would be great to have a class that focuses on scholarship deadlines like the FAFSA, and knowing what would be helpful to go into college,” she says. “When I actually got into college, I was struggling with how it works, what to do, and where to sign up.” Brenda envisions an education system that provides a roadmap for life after high school.

Brenda appreciates that League of Education Voters reaches out to ask for community opinions. “I like that Ruvine invited a parent to testify at the State Board of Education,” she says. “League of Education Voters didn’t just ask for student opinions – you wanted to hear from everyone.”

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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 January: Nikki Lockwood. Read about her advocacy for students with special needs.

January Education Advocate of the Month Nikki Lockwood

Nikki Lockwood has served as the lead on parent organizing for the Every Student Counts Alliance (ESCA), a group of advocates, parents, and community leaders seeking to reform school discipline in Spokane, and has worked effectively with Spokane Public Schools to change discipline policies. Parents with students of special needs look to her for advocacy when it comes to their kids.

Nikki first met League of Education Voters Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard through ESCA, and they participated in the same Spokane public community meetings. Nikki grew interested in our statewide work, while Sandra wanted to learn about experience of parents and became more involved in ESCA. “Sandra has been helpful in helping me navigate the education system,” Nikki says, “And League of Education Voters has great resources for parents in the ESCA.”

Nikki started school in a private Montessori kindergarten, and her children went through public Montessori. “My parents were teen parents,” Nikki says. “They got divorced when I was 3 years old. I am grateful and impressed that my dad provided that educational experience for me.” She greatly enjoyed the open environment of Montessori, although she remembers wondering in kindergarten what she was supposed to be doing.

After kindergarten, Nikki attended a small Catholic school that no longer exists. She had good relationships with her teachers. “I didn’t want to get in trouble and I did whatever my teachers wanted me to do,” Nikki recalls. “I didn’t want any negative attention.” She did not see herself as a top-performing student, but eventually realized she was doing as well as everyone else in her class.

Nikki’s family moved to Spokane Valley, where she went to neighborhood public schools in the Central Valley School District. “I did what I was supposed to and got good grades, but looking back I realize school didn’t foster creativity,” she says. Nikki did not have the confidence to explore her educational options. She was a quiet student, but was able to connect with a few teachers.

When asked how most teachers viewed her, Nikki recalls, “In 6th grade, there was a boy who was considered gifted – super smart. He and I moved past all the regular English/reading curriculum, and we were in the highest math. He was considered gifted, and I was ‘just Nikki.’ We did lunch cart because the school had no more reading curriculum for us. The school tested my brother to see whether he was highly capable, but not me. Was I not tested because I was a girl and Mexican with brown skin? If I was labeled a different way, would I have been a rocket scientist?” Nikki did not receive much academic support from her family. “Dad got his GED and later an AA degree, and my mom was never able to finish high school,“ she says.

Nikki was first person in her family to attend college. “Environment was a big part of that. Living in Spokane Valley, I was around kids who were going to college, and I was as smart as them, so I made it happen.” she says. “We moved away from extended family so while my parents left positive social supports from family and church, they also moved away from some less positive influences like substance abuse and incarceration that some family members experienced. Teen pregnancy was common.” It was difficult for Nikki’s parents to move away from family, but their children benefited. “I’m forever grateful for that,“ Nikki adds. “I didn’t realize until the past 10 years what a sacrifice that was.”

Upon graduating from high school, considering a career path was challenging. Nikki says, “It took a year and a half into college before I made a decision on a degree. I hoped someone would tell me what I’d be good at. I didn’t see anyone like me in the community as a professional and without exposure to many professions, it was hard to imagine my role and path. I ended up pulling out the college catalog, and decided to pursue being a registered dietitian. I wanted to help people using science and picked something easily defined.”

When asked about how she would change our education system, Nikki says she would like to see more intentional and well-executed inclusion for special needs students in school, as well as in extracurricular activities. “It would look less like DI (designed instruction) classes, and more of modifying curriculum and other needed supports in general ed classes,” she explains. “Some teachers do that, and some parents push for that, but I don’t think it’s the norm, yet.”

Nikki wishes more teachers were prepared for kids with special needs. “Imagine different kids, differently abled, in extracurricular activities of all types, everyone would benefit from that,” she says. In addition, she wants all students to have high expectations and for their school experience to help them reach their full potential. “Our students with special needs need purpose, and can play a role in our community as much as any other student.”

She also feels more educational options and smaller schools would help meet the needs of some students and help to decrease discipline issues. “This would be more costly, but we as a community also pay for the school-to-prison pipeline.”

She recalls, “When I was in school, I never talked to a student with disabilities. I felt uncomfortable about those kinds of students but they were never included; it was a disservice to all of us.” As a parent of a special needs child, Nikki has had much to learn. “As a country, we need to be more inclusive – we all have differences,” she says. “Starting in school is important, as kids are so good at adapting and soaking in information.”

Nikki enjoyed watching the film My Left Foot. “The family was totally inclusive – Christy Brown was a part of everything, including the neighborhood soccer games,” she says. “Everybody benefited from that, and we saw great examples of what is possible.”

On why she works with League of Education Voters, Nikki says, “I think that LEV has statewide recognition – that’s important for addressing issues regarding education. And Sandra (Jarrard) is a kind person, who can talk to a lot of different people. Her respect for parent voice is really appreciated. That’s important because parent perspective can be left out of the conversation.”

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The post Education Advocate of the Month: Nikki Lockwood 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 December: David Cortinas. Read about his education journey in Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities.

December Education Advocate of the Month David Cortinas

While many issues can divide a community, one thing that can bring us together is wanting what is best for our students. David Cortinas, Owner, Editor, and Publisher of award-winning La Voz Hispanic Newspaper in the Tri-Cities community, is a staunch supporter of students. David kept his community engaged in the Campaign for Student Success, which led to the McCleary school funding deal in the 2017 legislative session, and he has consistently shared information to make the community stronger. He was also one of the first Eastern Washington businessmen who took time out of his busy newspaper schedule to visit with representatives and legislative aides in Olympia to ask that education funding goes to the students who need it the most.

David became involved with League of Education Voters through Tri-Cities Community Organizer Ruvine Jiménez, whom he has known for over 12 years. They served together on the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Latin Business Association, and worked together on boards and community festivals in the Tri-Cities.

David’s parents always encouraged him to go to school. “As immigrants who worked on farms, they constantly told me that I’ll never get an education if I don’t go to school,” David recalls. He attended elementary, middle, and high school in Walla Walla, where he was born and raised, and worked in the fields, harvesting onions and other crops.

David went to umpiring school after he graduated from high school. “Since I was 17 years old, I umpired high school ball and college ball,” he says. David worked in WIAA hardball, fast pitch, college fast pitch, and even became involved in the local Walla Walla softball league. “I impacted my community the best I could,” he adds. After a short term as a professional umpire, David took on other endeavors. He created Hispanic media in 1995 with La Voz in Walla Walla, which he relocated to the Tri-Cities in 1999.

David appreciated the education he received in Walla Walla. “Being in school worked well,” he says. “Attendance is important – if you miss, you fall back, and you won’t get good grades.” However, he wishes he could have furthered his education. David believes he would have become an attorney, but he left his education path when he was offered well-paying jobs. He regrets taking those jobs instead of staying focused on his education. “Being bilingual, there were always opportunities to make money,” he says. “I never thought of continuing my education.”

When asked what kind of education system he would like to see in Washington state, David says he would like smaller class sizes so that teachers can spend more time with each student. “Students in a large class don’t get the attention,” he explains. “15-18 students is a good size. Any more than that, it’s too big of a class.”

David would also like to see teachers receive higher pay. He says, “Teachers paid for their education, and then we can’t pay them to teach our kids. We need to do a better job taking care of our teachers.”

David appreciates the work of League of Education Voters. “LEV is out there – you’re concerned about education, our students, and seeing that money is spent right, “he says. “You have the right concerns. You’re trying to find solutions to problems. And that’s what I’m about, too.”

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The post Education Advocate of the Month: David Cortinas 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.

Meet our Education Advocate of the Month for October: Leo Perales. Read about his experience as a strong advocate for equity in the Tri-Cities and beyond.

October Education Advocate of the Month Leo Perales

Leo Perales is vice chair of Consejo Latino, he is part of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and was one of the first community members to join the Campaign for Student Success, the coalition that advocated during the 2017 legislative session for education funding to go toward the students who need the most support. Since 2015, Leo has worked continuously with League of Education Voters Community Organizer Ruvine Jiménez. He is involved in forums and events encouraging community activism to improve the quality of life in the Tri-Cities. He currently manages The Perales Report Facebook page.

Leo was born and raised in Kennewick, Washington, the grandson of migrant workers, and the son of Jennifer and Lloyd Perales, who have family ties to the lower Columbia Valley. He graduated from Kamiakin High School in 2005, and later transferred to Columbia Basin College and eventually Heritage University, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in 2012.

He is proudly married to his wife Janette and has two kids, Jade and Kingston. His children are his inspiration for his community involvement and why he won’t ever stop fighting to rectify the injustices he sees in his community, especially the right to a first-class education.

To that end, Leo has advocated with Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, and is involved in this year’s campaign to pass a bond in the Pasco School District. “I see education as a pathway to a brighter future,” Leo says, “and I want to ensure that students have the tools they need.”

Leo’s entire family values education

School was difficult for Leo when he was young. “I had a speech impairment,” he recalls. “I didn’t catch up until I got to high school.” Fortunately, he received speech therapy at school. Leo believes that our education system should be more equitable, schools should receive targeted funding, instruction should be tailored to the individual, and that every student should receive the support they need in order to succeed.

“Education is important to my family,” Leo says. “If you don’t have it, it’s going to catch up to you in the long run.” His parents went to college, and Leo secured financial aid to finish his AA degree at Columbia Basin College. He also received extra tutoring when pursuing his BA at Heritage University. Now Leo works as an engineer and considers himself a lifelong learner; he looks forward to attending conferences and workshops

Encouraged by the legislature’s 2017 McCleary school funding deal, Leo sees eliminating disparities between school districts as an opportunity for change. “Districts shouldn’t be poaching teachers,” he says. “Emergency teachers are holding kids back.” He hopes that this year’s $7.3 billion agreement will make our system better. “We want every kid to succeed, not just a few.”

He is glad the Every Student Succeeds Act passed, so that there will be more accountability. “But beginning teachers still need to be paid more,“ Leo adds. “$40k for starting teacher salaries doesn’t compete with Hanford engineers who make $100k.”

Leo considers himself fortunate to live in the Kennewick School District. He cares what happens across the Columbia River in Pasco and Richland, and across Washington state. “People need to understand that we have public schools for a reason,” he says. “They’re not a burden – you’re providing opportunities for the next generation.”

Most of all, Leo likes working with League of Education Voters because of our focus on students. “I like working with organizations who believe it’s all about the kids,” he says. “And [League of Education Voters] provides the facts.”

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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 September: Candace Harris. Read about her experience as a strong advocate for early learning in rural Eastern Washington.

September Education Advocate of the Month Candace Harris

Candace Harris is Director of the Valley Early Learning Center, part of the Valley School District about 45 miles north of Spokane. Because Valley is a rural school district, many of the families live in poverty. Representing rural Washington, Candace attended the Education Vision Project that League of Education Voters convened in March, where stakeholders from the Spokane region envisioned what our education system could look like. Candace has a passion for working with kids and understands the importance of teachers receiving the training they need to engage students with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and she would like to see Social Emotional Learning (SEL) incorporated into school practices.

Rural districts like Valley faces different challenges than their urban counterparts. Candace says, “There’s a lot of isolation out here – your school or early learning center can be 20 miles away, so schools end up becoming the hub of the community.” In rural areas, schools take the place of community centers. She adds, “In rural communities, we wear multiple hats, like a lot of people in education do, but it does end up looking a little different.” Candace is the Director of Valley’s Early Learning Program, is a family advocate and a family engagement coordinator for toddlers through 2nd grade, and she also does home visiting. “Resources are spread pretty thin,“ she says. “If you think about our area, there isn’t even a pediatrician. The closest one is 30 miles away in Riverside.”

Candace has lived in Stevens County her entire life. She started substituting as a para pro at Valley School District and worked to develop an early learning program. She explains, “We had childcare for employees, and the next year, we started doing the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), we then became licensed as a childcare center to serve as many people as we could. Besides us, there isn’t any other licensed childcare in our area.”

Candace got her degree in early childhood education, taught preschool for several years, and then kept developing the Valley School District’s early learning program. She started offering parent education courses and family engagement opportunities. In her tiny rural area, she currently has 43 children ages five and under at her center, in a district where there are only about 210 students in grades K-8. She is trying to help everyone who needs services, but there are still families who don’t qualify for assistance from the state and don’t earn enough money to pay for private childcare, so there is a gap.

When asked what we can do to include everyone who needs services, Candace answers that we need more facilities. “At this point, my waiting list is 15 kids deep, so if I had more space, I could serve more kids,” she says. “And if private pay childcare was more affordable, we could serve anybody who needed it.”

Candace has a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old. “They love living here – they’re country kids, and my son loves to hunt and fish.” Her plan is to send them away for college because there are not many opportunities for children in Valley. She says, “I was lucky. I got to stay home with my kids when they were younger. I found myself in the same situation that many families face now. If I went to work, I couldn’t have afforded to work because childcare would have cost too much, and we would have lost money.”

When Candace was growing up, the entire community felt like a family. “Everywhere you went, you knew everybody, and everybody knew you, so you always felt safe.” But looking back now as an adult, she realizes that she had pretty poor health care. “We didn’t go to the doctor,” she says. Candace always wanted to live in Valley and was driven to serve her community and help students like her. She says, “Even if the desire of the family is to have their children stay here when they graduate high school, we could do a better job of telling kids that education is important and encouraging higher education options.”

If Candace could design an education system from scratch, she would like to see a better choice between going to work and staying home. “It would be great if we could have an ECEAP-style high quality program for kids from birth to three years old,” she says. “There needs to be a high quality place for people to take their young children, so that they can get off the system and get our communities working.” Also, she believes every child needs to feel like they belong. “Our kids need to be in quality places.”

About League of Education Voters, Candace says, “We share a vision and we want to create places where kids feel welcome and part of something bigger than themselves.” She suggests we need to make sure the education system is working for everyone, most importantly students, but also including teachers, administration, and staff.  Candace adds, “School should be a fun place – a place you look forward to going to, for everyone involved.”

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The post Education Advocate of the Month: Candace Harris appeared first on League of Education Voters.

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At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for June: Miguel Lucatero. Read about his experience as a strong advocate for Latino parents in the Tri-Cities.

June Activist of the Month Miguel Lucatero

Miguel Lucatero is a licensed home child care provider since 2001 who is participating in the Early Achievers program. He is also the parent spokesperson for Padres de Familia Preocupados por la Educacion y el Exito de Sus Hijos (Parents of Families Concerned for the Education and Success of their Children). In March 2016, a group of Tri-Cities parents met to exchange ideas and find out which kinds of problems they were experiencing in the education system. From there, the parent group Padres Preocupados por la Educacion y el Exito de Sus Hijos was born, and they have continued to meet monthly.

Last month, Mr. Lucatero wrote a letter to the Washington State Board of Education outlining the problems faced by his community, particularly the loss of tutoring services provided under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) planning stages began.

Miguel has been living in Washington State for 20 years. When asked what drives him, he says, “I am a person who likes to work because I am concerned for the future, the best interest of our children, and the well-being of the community.”

He and his wife have two daughters attending Stevens Middle School in Pasco. One is an 8th-grader and the other daughter is in the 7th grade. Mr. Lucatero says, “They still do not know want they would like to do, but they know they want to go to college.”

Although his community faces many challenges, Mr. Lucatero is inspired by trainings made available through the Early Learning Community on various aspects of early childhood education. “I like being able to take college classes about brain development,” he says. “That gives me ideas on how my wife and I can best teach the children in our care.”

If Miguel could design our education system, he would like to see teachers who are content experts developing curricula to ensure that students successfully finish high school with a focused, concrete foundation that would prepare them to achieve the college vision they want. “Think of how we build houses on concrete foundations,” Mr. Lucatero explains. “That way, our students could be successful in obtaining the careers they envision.”

The post Activist of the Month: Miguel Lucatero appeared first on League of Education Voters.

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At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for May: Elaine Woo. Read about her experience as a strong advocate for science education and fair funding.

May Activist of the Month Elaine Woo

Elaine Woo works with conviction for the children of Washington state. She speaks to legislators in Olympia, visits schools, advocates through phone calls, and recently co-wrote an Op-ed for the Seattle Times.

Elaine became connected with LEV when she received an email about a Lunchtime LEVinar. Soon afterward, she met LEV state field director Kelly Munn at an activist training event, which put Elaine on a path to talking with lawmakers. “I started calling and visiting my legislators as well as writing letters,” she recalls. “It’s great how LEV helps people find a way to have a voice.”

Elaine taught elementary school for 3 years in California before heading to Okinawa to teach for a year with the Department of Defense. She then spent the next 33 years with Seattle Public Schools (SPS), with the exception of a year teaching highly capable education with Seattle Country Day School. Upon returning to Seattle Public Schools, she taught in the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) as well as in the regular classroom for the next 12 years.

After Elaine became the assistant principal at Bryant Elementary in Seattle, she was asked to help parents develop a science program for the school. She says, “Some of the parents told me that every child in Seattle needs a good science education, not just in this school.” Soon afterward, Elaine was approached by Valerie Logan, the wife of noted biologist Dr. LeRoy Hood. Both Logan and Hood took major leadership in helping the Bryant School community and the entire district  apply for a grant from  the National Science Foundation (NSF). With the NSF grant, other grants, and district funds, the professional development program was continually developed and implemented for 16 years providing researched-based professional development for elementary teachers.

Elaine worked as an assistant principal at Bryant and then principal at John Rogers Elementary for about six years before leading the grant efforts for science teacher professional development in the Seattle Public Schools central office. “The experience taught me about change,“ she explains. “There are certain areas where each of us just doesn’t want to change.” She learned that making policies stronger is  difficult but crucial. Elaine adds, “If policies are better and more supportive, then teachers can do better for their students.”

She has a big issue with elementary science, because there is so much pressure to focus on literacy and math that principals and/or teachers in Washington are left to decide whether or not science will be taught. Elaine says, “It’s too late for many students if you wait until middle school for full-year science.” She also likes the concept of ensuring that students can pass a science assessment before leaving high school. Elaine believes that if a biology assessment, for example, is required for graduation, it sends a message to the students that they need to work harder. She says, “Adults find excuses not to include a science test for graduation. People cling to those barriers, maybe because it’s  less work, which is tragic for kids.”

Elaine’s philosophy is that if a teacher has high expectations, participates in research-based professional development, and provides effective support, then students will achieve better. Outside the classroom, our kids need good instruction and support at home, as well. She also weighs in on the McCleary education funding debate. She says, “The accountability portion of McCleary is really hard, but it’s really important.” She notes that there has to be support from superintendents, principals, and parents for raising the bar. “Legislators are walking a fine line,” she explains. “We need to thank them for their hard work.”

On LEV, she says, “The work LEV is doing is fantastic – helping parents and students find information outside of the system.” And when judging her own efforts on behalf of Washington kids, Elaine humbly says, “I don’t do enough, and I’d like to do more.”

The post Activist of the Month: Elaine Woo appeared first on League of Education Voters.

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At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for March: Sameth Mell. Read about his experience as a strong advocate for education, housing, and immigrant communities.

March Activist of the Month Sameth Mell

Sameth Mell is an active leader with the Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees & Communities of Color (CIRCC), serving on the leadership and advocacy committees. He works for the Mount Baker Housing Association as the Outreach & Resident Services Manager, helping residents access needed services and programs, and helping them to engage in their community. He is also responsible for connecting the agency at large to community based organizations and public officials, and works on legislative materials. He is a community activist extraordinaire on behalf of the Cambodian community and many social justice issues that the community faces.

Sameth supported the Campaign for Student Success (C4SS) by adopting its three principles of funding and fairness, talent, and accountability as part of CIRCC’s advocacy agenda for this year, along with other priorities that focus on housing development for communities in South Seattle, opposition to building a new youth jail, and ending fines for formerly incarcerated people that often prevent them from being able to support themselves.

After he put together CIRCC’s advocacy agenda, Sameth then scheduled C4SS group meetings with four Seattle City Council members to date, and seven state legislators. As a small group, C4SS met with council members Burgess, Johnson, Herbold and Harrell. Each time, C4SS had thoughtful conversations with the council member about the priorities on our advocacy agenda, and C4SS has asked the council member to sign onto the Campaign for Student Success. Of the four, one has signed on so far. Sameth is now working on setting up more appointments with the remaining Seattle City Council members.

Sameth was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after his parents fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. After his father died in the camp, his mother signed up to relocate him and his three siblings to the United States in 1985.

Living in poverty in mid-1980s Seattle, Sameth wondered why he was transferred from High Point Elementary School near his home and bused to Lafayette Elementary seven miles away. He didn’t understand the policies then.

Sameth became involved in Asian Counseling and Referral Service’s APIRA (Asian Pacific Islander Rising Above) program in his teen years, and started to recognize his Khmer identity as being important to him. He began working on identity politics, recognizing racism and oppression and addressing more of that as he grew older. Sameth says, “I saw organizing as a way to effect change and create equity for my community members.”

In addition to C4SS, Sameth is working with the Cambodian-American Community Council of Washington State to create scholarships. They have strong advocates from the education sector working on the education subcommittee, particularly around mentorship to help students continue to higher education. He hopes to have conversations with elected officials about helping support Cambodian-Americans attain degrees and certificates, and share stories about the Khmer Rouge genocide.

When Sameth went to high school, there were only two paragraphs about the Khmer Rouge genocide in his history books. He would like to see an education mechanism to educate the general public about the genocide so that his community can take pride in overcoming that, and draw attention to its implications in today’s political climate. He says, “Refugees don’t come to America because they just want a better life. My mother never asked to be here. We had no choice but to survive.”

Sameth says all the issues he works on intersect. In addition to C4SS, he is supporting the creation of a Filipino Community Center, construction of the Mount Baker Gateway Project to build 250 affordable housing units in Southeast Seattle, and the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). He says, “We’re rewriting the narrative – ecology equals affordable housing. If we want to build on a space contaminated by solvents, we need to get MTCA funds to make that happen.”

His overall plan is create spaces where people can live, celebrate their cultures, and have access to quality education. After all, Sameth says, “We have along Rainier the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the country.”

The post Activist of the Month: Sameth Mell appeared first on League of Education Voters.

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