rn o .,,,,, Nk, Yolando Castillo Louis Dubose refers to until 1994, when the school district changed Palmer’s attendance area and added third through fifth grades to its pre-K through second-grade classes. This brought children from new parts of Las Milpas to Palmer including Angel Bustos of the Villas del Valle colonia. With him came his mother, Rosario Bustos, who helped out in the school as much as she could. After a degenerative muscle disease made it impossible for her to continue working, Bustos devoted herself to Palmer full-time. There she joined Sylvia Morales, mother of two Palmer students, in volunteering around the school. Sal Flores saw an opportunity in the larger student body and organized parents, and he challenged them to do more. “We used to have parents who were very, very quiet,” Flores said, “who would never speak I would say almost timid who now are advocates, who will stand up and tell how they feel about what they want for their children.” He collaborated with a skilled organizer. Estela Sosa Garza is a social worker whose own education was often disrupted by the work her parents did as migrant farmworkers. In 1994 she was an organizer for Valley Interfaith. After meeting with a number of Palmer parents in their homes Sosa Garza began a series of weekly meetings with a core group of parents in the school. “We began a series of leadership development training,” she said. “What’s a school board? What’s the role of the principal? Teaching how the district’s set up. Then, just politics: how do we influence decisions? Since we don’t have money, we need to organize people. And basically it was through those forty people that we had ongoing conversations, negotiations and dialogues among themselves as to what they would prioritize.” Flores arranged for Bustos, Morales, and two other parents to attend a statewide meeting of similar schools in 1995. The 1995 convention was the turning point for Sylvia Morales. “Once there in the convention, everything Estela told me started falling into place,” Morales said. “All the Alliance schools got together. Hearing all the testimony, how they improved on their TAAS \(the going out to their streets and talking to parents. So apparently me and Rosario were the ones who really got energized on this and we did want to do a lot of things.” Rosario Bustos also began thinking about school in a political context. “We started in the school, you know, making little changes here and there,” she said. “We do have the power to change things. You cannot just sit there and look at what they’re doing and say, `Well, the school’s the school and that’s it,’ you know. And we started with the school, and then, like I said, we did things that were citywide and districtwide and statewide. We didn’t know we could do this. We didn’t know we had the power to do it.” Palmer parents organized by Valley Interfaith also collaborated with the school’s faculty. Tracy Southwell, a tall, blonde, fifthgrade teacher from northern Minnesota, also learned from the organizing process. “When we became an Alliance school, Mr. Flores wanted us to get to know the parents, get to know the community, so we could work together,” she said. “Before that I can honestly tell you I didn’t know them. We started with home visits. That was wonderful. I’m right there working with the parents. I’ve got that relationship with them now. It’s also very important to see where some of these kids are coming from, some of the struggles they have and some of the problems they have to face, because it really does make you more compassionate. Maybe the homework isn’t done all the time, and you see they live in a house with one room and five kids and one table. A lot of these parents just don’t know where to start. And this gives them the opportunity to start. I always tell my students I need to work with their parents, we need to work together, because that’s the real world.” The parents and teachers at Palmer work together on the campus council, allocating limited discretionary funds for supplemental classroom materials. They discuss, evaluate, and negotiate new directions in curriculum. The parents talk about what their children need while the principal and teachers talk about alternative classroom methods that may get the children what they need. As a result, unlike many Valley schools, Palmer boasts a curriculum similar to that found in many affluent suburban districts. Early childhood classes are based on Montessori methods. Balanced literacy and cooperative, projectbased learning are used throughout the school. Through the extra state funding for Alliance schools, teachers have been able to receive instruction not provided by their district or regional education centers. Tracy Southwell, for instance, brought classrooms-without-walls training to her classroom, working with students to write grants and develop programs to help their communities. Beginning with pre-kindergarten and this year extending through third grade, the school has worked with the University of Texas at Pan American to institute a two-way bilingual program, in which all students learn both English and Spanish. Each primarily English-speaking child is paired with a primarily Spanish-speaking child, and the program provides continuous assessment. This year, Flores said, 70 percent of the students are reading and writing at or above grade level in both English and Spanish by the end of the second grade. “It’s hard APRIL 14, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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