Tavia Teitler, '21
Listen deeply and act strategically: Organizing for more equitable education in Colorado
I could see the majestic Colorado mountains in my rearview mirror and feel butterflies in my stomach as I pulled into the parking lot of Sister Carmen Community Center. It was my first day of work at Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Student Outcomes (ELPASO), and it only took about 10 minutes of the weekly Monday morning staff meeting for me to realize that I would be working for a truly incredible organization.
The ELPASO community organizers and school-readiness coordinators introduced themselves to me and immediately launched into a discussion about ways to effectively engage with their community in the current climate of fear about immigration. ELPASO's then executive director, Tere Garcia, then spoke passionately about her new idea for a teddy bear clinic that could help raise awareness about the importance of preventative medical care. As I listened, I was blown away by the passion, energy, and power in the room. My sense of awe and inspiration only grew throughout the summer as I became more familiar with the women of ELPASO and the work they do.
I am majoring in comparative studies in race and ethnicity with a concentration in inequality in education, so a lot of my time at Stanford has been spent learning about theories of education inequity. However, I lacked intimate firsthand knowledge of what people were doing in their communities to tackle these issues. In other words, I didn't know what many of these concepts and theories looked like on the ground.
ELPASO is a community organization based in Boulder, Colorado, that works to help close the opportunity and achievement gap between White and Latinx students in the area through effective parent engagement. By learning about ELPASO's parent training and parent advocacy groups, I came to appreciate the power of informed, organized parents, and gained a deeper understanding of all of the factors that go into fighting for more equitable education. The theories I had learned about in the classroom came to life for me as I tagged along as the coordinators went door to door to recruit parents for their training program and listened as parents described their experiences raising their children in this country. I attended meetings with the parent advocacy group to ask school district officials to revise their translator policies and hire bilingual school secretaries. I also took notes as the women held a meeting with the director of the local free clinic to voice concerns about how they and the parents they work with were being treated. Later in the summer, I helped prepare materials for a workshop at a local trailer park on how to fill out money orders properly after the residents were robbed of a month's rent by their landlord.
I was inspired by the organizers' and coordinators' ability to respond to more immediate needs in their community while still maintaining focus on their long-term mission. I learned lessons in the field from the women of ELPASO that both challenged and informed the lessons I've learned in the classroom. Most importantly, the women of ELPASO showed me what it means to listen deeply and act strategically. I know I will bring this knowledge back to the classroom, and out into the world after graduation.
This summer helped me realize that community organizing and nonprofit work, especially in relation to issues of education access and equity, is the kind of work I want to do in the future. Though I still need to spend time reflecting on my place as a White Stanford student in organizations that serve historically marginalized communities, I now know that I am committed to learning, just as I learned from my co-workers at ELPASO.