Meet Mello Ahoia, the young woman on the left holding the rally sign. Mello knows first-hand the value of students and adults communicating well at school. Had adults at her high school asked her why things seemed to be falling apart for her during the beginning of her senior year, she could have avoided a lot of trouble, and heartache.
Her story shows how critical it is to listen when students talk.
At that time, Mello and her family were told that her Dad had a tumor near his heart, and because he was in and out of the hospital so much, her parents tasked her with taking her younger siblings to school every morning before going to her own high school. This required her to drive to two different schools before 8 a.m. One day, Mello ended up arriving to class 5 minutes late and receiving an in-school suspension as punishment. This happened over and over again, until finally she was close to not being able to graduate because of a flunked first period class. As she says in an interview with Public Advocates, she wishes that a teacher or administrator had reached out to her before issuing the harsh suspension to ask what was going on.
Mello’s story is not unique. Too often, students are not given the space to share critical information about themselves and their lives with their teachers and counselors. This could change in many schools, if the promise of California’s recent education reform is realized.
In 2013, California lawmakers passed a new school funding formula for the state, known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). This new law gives extra support to school districts to serve students with high needs, specifically foster youth, English language learners, and low-income students. It brings more funds to district schools they attend, and which then have a responsibility to increase or improve services that principally benefit them. These services can include more counselors, availability of translators for non-English speaking kids, and restorative justice programs targeting high need students who are having trouble.
In May, groups including Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, PICO California, Families in Schools, Parent Organizing Network (PON), Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN) and Public Advocates brought Mello and over a hundred more students, parents and others to Sacramento for the State Board of Education meeting.
We joined forces to achieve one goal: push the state board to create a way to meaningfully evaluate districts’ spending plans under the LCFF. The plans are known as Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) and they must include stakeholder engagement. In other words, parents and students must be consulted on how the district will spend education money earmarked for low-income, English learners and foster youth. Unified with our#measureoursuccess and #medirnuestroexito message, we marched around the California Department of Education (CDE), concluding our march across the CDE at a rally, where students and advocates took to the stage to discuss their demands. In addition to more defined metrics for authentic parent and student voice in decision-making, our demands included a call for:
- Separating out data by race and gender so that the way districts measure the progress they’re making can be seen more clearly in relation to different groups.
- Measures of progress and standards that are set with the involvement of parents and students at the local level.
One of those students who took the stage was high school senior Jaezon Johnson. He spent his first three years of high school in Georgia then moved to L.A. Like Mello, Jaezon spoke about the poor school climate he experienced in Los Angeles. In an interview with Public Advocates, he discussed the lack of counselors at his high school. He said that the few times his counselor was able to meet with him out of the 600+ students in her case load, she was very helpful and thoughtful. However, due to the lack of counselors, “[t]here’s really no assistance for black and brown kids in our low income communities to get ahead. They usually have to do things on their own, and if they don’t, they’re out of luck.”
The State Board of Education will be going through a long process extending through the summer and into the fall, to determine the rubrics – or criteria— for evaluating the processes that school districts go through to implement the LCFF via the writing of Local Control Accountability Plans. So much is at stake in this process, because to truly deliver on the promise of local control, parents and students like Mello and Jaezon should have their voices heard, along with so many other California students and their parents. Public Advocates will keep you posted on the State Board of Education’s progress on this important effort.
See photos from the rally.