How a KC nonprofit is helping Latinx educators across US: ‘We want to build community’

Last summer, two superintendents and three school board members from the Kansas City and Kansas City, Kansas, public school districts arrived at a small brick office in Pendleton Heights.

The reason for their visit was a common one for school administrators: a meeting for parents from their districts to ask questions, give feedback and discuss their children’s school experiences.

The twist? All the parents in the room spoke in Spanish the entire night. Their questions, comments and concerns were relayed to the English-speaking administrators through a translator.

“The interpretation was happening for the superintendents, it wasn’t happening for the parents,” recalled Edgar Palacios, who helped organize the event. “It gave the superintendents much more empathy, and a better understanding of what it’s like to be in a room where people aren’t speaking your language.”

The meeting was just one example of how Palacios’ organization, the Latinx Education Collaborative, aims to amplify Latinx voices in the education system. In addition to building connections in the broader school community, his group helps Latinx educators at all stages of their careers access professional development, mentorship, job resources and social support.

The Kansas City-based organization’s political arm, Revolución Educativa, pushes for policies that help Latinx teachers and families participate more fully in the education system.

Tricia McGee, the group’s policy director, moderated the Spanish-language parent discussion last summer.

Tricia McGee is the director of policy for the nonprofit group Revolución Educativa, part of the Latinx Education Collaborative.
Tricia McGee is the director of policy for the nonprofit group Revolución Educativa, part of the Latinx Education Collaborative.

“It was important to us to invite superintendents and board members to a community space where parents had already engaged in events and we had established trust,” McGee said.

“The intention to help educational leaders understand what it feels like to not be the dominant language in the room was actually a secondary priority for us. Our first priority was to give parents and community members a direct connection to educational leaders who are in charge of making decisions for their children.”

Latinx teachers and administrators make up around 8% or 9% of educators nationwide, but only around 1% of the educators in the Kansas City area, Palacios said.

That’s a problem for the many Latinx students who don’t see themselves represented in the classroom, and the Latinx educators themselves who often lack a sense of community at school and are called upon to act as translators or cultural liaisons on top of their regular work.

“Along with recruitment, you actually have to really critically think about retention,” Palacios said. “Educators of color need to find like-minded communities, folks from similar cultures and identities, and that helps sustain folks. (Otherwise) what’s going to happen, particularly in the Latino community, is they’re not going to go to a different school. They’re going to just exit the teaching profession altogether.”

Celebrating outstanding Latinx educators

Part of the group’s efforts to build community and resilience among Latinx educators is by celebrating their contributions to their school communities.

On Friday, the organization honored six current and future education professionals in its fifth Latinx Educator Awards at Parlor in the Crossroads. Four of the winners live and work in the Kansas City area, while two others flew in for the ceremony from Atlanta and Baltimore.

Here are the 2024 winners selected out of 115 nominations:

Educator of the Year: Edwin Pérez, a Spanish teacher at Parkville High School just outside Baltimore, Maryland.

Counselor of the Year: Samanta Landa, a high school counselor at Olathe North High School in Olathe.

Administrator of the Year: Ileana Farney, the principal of Central Middle School in Kansas City, Kansas.

Support Staff of the Year: Mariela Arzabe, a parent liaison at Lakeside High School, part of the Dekalb County School District in Atlanta.

Future Educator of the Year: Julia Avila, a student teacher at the Allen Village Charter School in Kansas City and a student at the University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Education.

Aspiring Educator of the Year: Jacqueline Guillen, a high school junior at the Guadalupe Centers Charter Schools in Kansas City.

“Some people will tell me that celebrations are not a meaningful way of retaining educators,” Palacios said. “Until you talk to the educators, and this is the first time in their careers that they’ve been awarded anything.”

He recalled a recent meeting where an educator about to leave the profession told him that she didn’t want another Starbucks gift card as a tepid “thanks” for her hard work — she wanted to see policy shifts that will materially benefit teachers.

From interventions with individual teachers to meetings with district leadership, Palacios hopes that the group’s political arm can continue making inroads that will strengthen the voice of Latinx educators around the city and beyond.

“Important to the awards is, we want to build community,” he said. “We want the community to invest in our educators, we want the community to see that this is important. And if we do that well, then our young people are going to directly benefit positively because of the work that we do.”

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