I am seated across my high school counselor in his tiny dim office where only his desk and two chairs fit. In between us, stands his computer and stacks of disorganized documents. He wants to discuss my academic goals, but I get distracted as a piece of food flies out of his mouth and onto his keyboard. He is eating his lunch during our appointment, and just as I perceive his lack of interest, I dismiss the conversation entirely. I left the office feeling unimportant and simply a box to be checked off in the counselor’s to do list.
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Consequently though, it lit a spark of awareness. The realization of inequity and marginalization became more apparent throughout the years as a student. My experience as a former student from Los Angeles Unified initiated my interest for social justice, which then transformed into a commitment when I became a Special Education Teacher. Now, I am ready and excited to take this commitment to a larger scale and become a social justice school leader. I want to create a partnership with administrators, teachers, counselors, support staff, and parents to create a supportive learning environment where all students can thrive.
This is my sixth year working at Sun Valley Magnet School, which has about 1,500 students and 93% receive free/reduced lunch. The same middle school I graduated from many years ago. I have taught in both the Special Day Program and in the Resource Specialist Program. As an educator, my students have always been at the center of my work, and I have strived to teach beyond the standards. For instance, co-teaching a unit in an English Language Development (ELD) course, where students did research on the crisis in Syria, had a Q & A session with a Syrian immigrant, developed PSAs to present to peers, and concluded the unit with a fundraiser. Throughout this unit, I noticed my students’ attitude changing from passiveness to ownership and empowerment. I have also aimed to combat economically disadvantage student obstacles, such as poor assignment submission due to lack of technology at home and limited support from parents.
Therefore, my classroom is open during lunchtime and afterschool for students to use the iPads/printer, and for tutoring. Additionally, I expose my students to opportunities that will enhance their personal development. For instance, nominating students to C5LA: an out-of-state college readiness program during the summer that covers all expenses. The work I have done for my students brings me great joy. Yet, I am aware that I am only scratching the surface, and that I am capable of doing more for them.
In 2013, I undertook the role of Special Education Department Chair. This assignment led me to work more with adults where I experienced success, but also disappointment. The disappointment came in the form of prejudice. For instance, colleagues stating with frustration that certain students were unteachable. I noticed that these comments often referred to students with a Behavior Support Plan (BSP), and that teachers felt ill-equipped to deal with these behaviors. The disappointment I felt, changed into eagerness to take action and create an environment where both colleagues and students felt supported. With the assistance of other Special Education Teachers and coordinator, we led a Professional Development (PD). We discussed the role of the Resource Specialist Teacher, instructional and behavior support for students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This PD has continued to be implemented every year, and has evolved and adjusted as the needs of our students and staff changed. For example, we became a span school (Grades 6-12), so now the PD is organized into two categories (middle school and high school) to make the topics relevant according to grade levels. This was my first time assuming a leadership role with a firm position for social justice. I learned to be observant of my learning community, and to work collectively to address its needs.
An important goal that I hope to achieve as I pursue enrollment in the Principal Leadership Institute (PLI) is to help close the achievement gap that separates English Language Learners (ELL) with and without disabilities from their native English speaker peers. To start, I am interested in studying the effectiveness of shelter classes, which hold a high number of ELLs and students with an IEP. As the number of ELLs continues to increase and new rigorous assessments are enforced, I hope to establish a method of support for this group of students.
Another goal that is important for me is to expand my knowledge and abilities to build a partnership with parents. I want parents to understand the unique support they provide to their children’s school success and to be active participants in their education. This objective is in part due to a conversation I had with a parent about the potential I saw in his son. My student was passing his classes with mostly C’s, but it was not a true reflection of his capability. The father replied that he himself had only completed elementary in his home country. If his son only graduated from middle school that was enough for him. As an immigrant myself, I understood this parent. I understood that this country has offered us opportunities that would be nearly impossible to attain in our home country. How dare we ask for more? At the same time, I understood that this way of thinking is in part what allows the cycle of oppression and marginalization in impoverished communities to continue.
“We must stop being the canneries,” Janette. These words from a former student’s testimonial on the PLI website resonated with my commitment to social justice. I have a desire to provide quality education and for underrepresented groups to notice and accept their abilities to thrive in this country. This is why PLI and its focus on the political, legal, and social context are a perfect fit for me. These areas will help me understand how school mandates are formed, how they are enforced, and their impact on education. I believe that understanding this process will allow me to create an action plan to best support my students. I am truly committed to equity, quality, and empowerment. Joining PLI is a natural step for me, one I am prepared to take and work tirelessly for, with both effort, and eagerness.
An Importance of Social Justice. (2019, Apr 08).
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