The Huffington Post
By: Stephen Salinas
November 2, 2010
Marta, a mother of a sixth-grade student at John Liechty Middle School, came up to me the other day with a question. Through the grapevine, she had heard of a program where people in bright jackets gave children heroes and make the community better and she wanted to know how her daughter could get involved. She lives in the Pico-Union neighborhood of Los Angeles, where I oversee the City Year program at five public middle schools, and despite the constant ebb and flow of Latino immigrant families in and out of the area, there is a strong sense community in place. And in this community, chisme -- gossip -- travels faster than the news on the airwaves.
I told her that she was referring to City Year's after-school program, After-School Heroes, and that we didn't help children find heroes; we made them the heroes of their own community. In the program, students receive an hour of homework help from City Year corps members and then go on to a special curriculum in which corps members teach kids about social justice issues in the community. We challenge students to think critically about their world and give them the knowledge, the tools and the encouragement to change it.
Needless to say, she enrolled her daughter on the spot.
That moment got me thinking about the role of the community in the education of our children. By and large, immigrant families migrate to the most under-resourced neighborhoods of our nation's largest cities. Emphasizing this point, President Obama recently stated that "Latino students are more likely to attend our lowest-performing schools, more likely to learn in larger class sizes, more likely to drop out at higher rate." He went on to say, "This is not just a Latino problem; this is an American problem. We've got to solve it. Because if we allow these trends to continue, it won't just be one community that falls behind. We will all fall behind together."
Our corps members and our students are taking the first steps to solve the problem. In the next two weeks over 1,000 children in Los Angeles will enroll in our after school program and pledge to become of part of the solution that keeps their communities from falling behind. We not only support them academically to ensure that they stay on track to graduate high school, but also show them their role as a force for change in the community so they can be part of the process. By empowering children now, we help to build a stronger community for the future.
Marta's daughter took this pledge when she started our after school program at John Liechty Middle School: "I believe I can make a difference in my life and the lives of others, to inspire those around me to build a better future, to teach and be taught and to engage our communities, and take pride in our accomplishments."
She took her first steps to becoming a hero and her mother couldn't have been prouder.