Valeria Contreras is the Advocacy Director at A+ Colorado. During the pandemic, she has been working from home and supporting her niece and nephew with online schooling. This is a first-person perspective.
I’m on the phone with my coworker Hayley, and my niece is upset, pleading to me to help her find her crayons so she can be prepared for her art class. She’s 5 years old and starting kindergarten in an Aurora Public School, remotely. I tell Hayley that I have to hang up and follow up with her later.
Don’t worry. We found her crayons and she successfully filled a white sheet of paper with colorful rainbows. You might be wondering where are her parents? I’ll tell you, they’re working. Like many essential workers they have not stopped working since COVID-19 showed up in Colorado. I am in a position of privilege and have the opportunity to work from home since I can do most of my work from my computer and over the phone. My sister, and a like many other folks across the country, do not have that privilege.
My sister is not the only person that has had to figure out how to support her children in school while also having to continue working to provide financially for her family. In our house and family, we truly live by the saying, “todos necesitamos de todos.” It’s a proverb that my mother constantly says to us and it’s similar to the African proverb, “it takes a village.” While my sister is at work, I am supporting my niece and nephew with their online schooling at home. We’re doing what we can to make sure our students are successful. And I know that we are not alone.
Historically, family engagement in schools from families of color has always looked different. In my family my older brother was engaged in my education. He would support me with homework because he spoke English and my parents did not. Family engagement does not always come from parents, it can be any trusted family member. Educators and school leaders should normalize using family vs. parents.
The presence of family members is important for family engagement, but it’s not the only form of engagement. For example, my dad was never able to attend my teacher conferences because he was working. In fact, while he lived in the U.S., he usually worked 2-3 jobs to be able to provide for our family. But, he constantly asked for my grades and told me that I would go to college. And I did, and I owe my degrees to the sacrifices of my parents.
Due to other circumstances and lived experiences, engagement from our communities may look different, but it does not make it any less valuable.
How are school and district leaders engaging and supporting families who are unable to stay home and have to physically go into work? My sister has me (a former educator) as support, but this is not what all working families are experiencing. We care about our students. We care about education. And we are doing what we can do, with what we have.