Voces Unidas awarded national grant to accelerate parent organizing in regional school districts
Voces Unidas de las Montañas today announced that it has been awarded an unprecedented national grant from NewSchools Venture Fund to help accelerate its transformative work in parent organizing in rural school districts in the central mountain region.
NewSchools is a venture philanthropy that works to build a better education system by connecting people, resources, and ideas on the frontlines of education. Voces Unidas was awarded $150,000 to hire additional organizers focused on diversifying parent leadership in the region.
Voces Unidas recognizes that diverse parent leadership makes a difference. Research shows that increasing diversity in schools improves outcomes for all students, spurs innovation, and strengthens organizations. Parent involvement has also been closely linked to improved student outcomes, and students of color, in particular, do better academically, have fewer disciplinary incidents, and experience more meaningful connections with mentors who share their backgrounds, resulting in deeper learning experiences and higher graduation rates.
Yet, in many rural counties where the majority of public-school students are now children of color, that diversity is not reflected in parent participation.
“Our goal is to improve outcomes for all students by mobilizing parents to serve as change agents of the school system,” said Alex Sánchez, CEO of Voces Unidas. “We believe that by working together with parents, school districts, and community partners, we can create more equitable rural education systems that better reflect the needs and experiences of all students in our region. We thank NewSchools for supporting our efforts."
We know parent organizing can have a lasting impact on small, rural education systems and entire communities over time. Our parent initiative will address the immediate need to hold the school system accountable on diversity by demanding better policies today, while simultaneously creating a pipeline of active parent leaders and future school board members to continue the long-term work of ensuring equity for all students in the future, especially those from historically marginalized backgrounds.
Voces Unidas seeks to address the persistent, chronic achievement gaps experienced by Latino, immigrant, and under-resourced students compared to white students in rural school systems where Latinos make up more than 50% of the student body or are nearing that index.
The Roaring Fork School District, for example, serves 5,292 students in 13 rural schools, about 57% of whom are Latino. Latino students in the district are, on average, academically 2.8 grades behind their white peers and are 1.9 times less likely to be enrolled in at least one AP class.
A recent news story examining three years of data measuring grade-level expectations in English Language Arts for students in grades 3-8 showed that “white students in the Roaring Fork Schools are right on pace with the state in their English language achievement, at 54.9% meeting or exceeding expectations.'' Latino students in the district “lost ground in those three years, with 16.6% of Roaring Fork District students meeting or exceeding expectations, compared to the state average of 25.7%.” Among students just beginning to learn English, only 4.4% of Roaring Fork students met or exceeded expectations in the latest round of testing, compared to the state average of 7.9%.
A similar trend can be seen in the nearby Eagle County School District, where about 52% of the 6,699 students in its 20 schools are Latino. Latino students in that district are, on average, 2.7 grades behind white students, and white students are 1.4 times more likely than Latinos to be enrolled in at least one AP class. The disparity is reflected across all grade levels in 2022 CMAS testing results, with 61.4% of white students meeting or exceeding expectations compared to only 22.8% of Latino students.
Latino parents in the region recognize the shortcomings and have shown their desire to address it. Latinos on the Western Slope ranked education as the No. 4 priority for state elected officials to address in our 2023 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda survey, and nearly 70% cited the lack of diversity among school leadership as a concern. Nearly 80% of Western Slope Latinos expressed concern about a lack of effort by school leaders to involve parents in the education of their children, the most in any region of the state.
Unlike urban school districts, where decades of funding has supported parent organizing models to change education policy and system failures, rural communities have been largely ignored and left without many of the best practice strategies or investments to build and support parent mobilization. Voces Unidas is grateful to NewSchools for recognizing the needs of our community and for funding the opportunity to initiate these practices.
“Latino parents want to be effective advocates for their children – in the classroom and at the school and district level -- but rarely are local school districts prepared to include them,” said Alan Muñoz Valenciano, Regional Manager of Organizing Programs at Voces Unidas. “We look forward to seeing more Latino parents engaged in district policy debates and advocating for better student outcomes. And we need Latino parents to run for school board to help lead the change.”