San Antonio's Lively Bilingual Event a Big Success

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The AFT and the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel teamed up with the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization this month to hold a bilingual literacy and community outreach conference in San Antonio—a festive and informative Saturday morning event that drew families from across the city.

participants at San Antonio event 

Joined by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the AFT and its local affiliate organized the June 4 event at Rhodes Middle School, a neighborhood public school serving a high-poverty neighborhood in the heart of San Antonio. The conference featured workshops filled with tips for fighting summer learning loss, working effectively with English language learners, building literacy and strengthening the home-school connection.

It was supported through an AFT Innovation Fund grant to the San Antonio Alliance, a project that aims to fight enrollment decline in the district through new public "internal" charter schools. Rhodes Middle is one of three buildings set to debut this fall as an internal charter, an approach to school redesign that empowers teachers to reshape the schools in ways that build on existing strengths and engage feedback and support from the neighborhoods they serve.

AFT president Randi Weingarten told conference participants that the event was an inspiring illustration of what can be accomplished with "schools as hubs of their communities, with wraparound services that address unmet needs" of students and families. Strong public policy can and should support this work, she said, pointing to the research-proven value of bilingual education and the need for Congress to pass the DREAM Act, offering a path to higher education for millions of deserving first-generation students who enter U.S. schools from families headed by undocumented residents.

Diane Gonzales Bertrand 

"You—the parents, teachers and school employees—are truly the pride of San Antonio," Alliance president Shelley Potter told the conference audience, which included representatives of the local school board, Texas Federation of Teachers president and AFT vice president Linda Bridges, and Linda Chavez-Thompson, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and former AFL-CIO executive vice president. Also featured at the conference was noted children's author and San Antonio native Diane Gonzales Bertrand (pictured at right), who delighted young children with a reading.

"Commitment, focus and collaboration" are the driving force behind the conference and solid school improvement efforts in San Antonio, Potter stressed. "As education professionals, we want the same thing for our students as you do—a better and brighter future," she told the parents at the event.

The audience also heard from Janet Murguía, NCLR's president and chief executive officer. She told the families and educators that the conference was "a testament to your commitment to children." Recalling the key role that education played in bringing opportunity to her own family, Murguía told the crowd, "by being here, you are doing the right thing by your family and your community … opening the door of the American dream a little wider" to students across the city.

Also featured at the conference was San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who grew up in the neighborhood served by Rhodes Middle School. The work undertaken at the event will help to "make a profound difference in the future of San Antonio," the mayor predicted, adding that there is no greater indicator of success than "a parent standing over the progress of their children like a guardian angel."

That message was not lost on conference participants like Leslie Flores, a parent who circulated through the workshops with two prekindergartners in tow. "It's better to know this now, when they're 3 and 4" than to miss the opportunity, said Flores, adding that she saved the Saturday morning immediately after seeing the event announced in a flier, and made her way across town with several family members to attend.

Her enthusiasm was matched by teachers like William Davis, head of the technology department at Rhodes and union building rep for the school. He was one of dozens of teachers and school employees who sacrificed their Saturday mornings to staff the event, explaining that he was eager to participate in a conference that "shows the positive things teachers do all the time … something you don't hear about" in today's mainstream media reports.

Among the topics featured at the conference were Colorín Colorado, an online instructional resource for preK-12 educators of English language learners that was developed by the AFT and PBS affiliate WETA, and Padres Comprometidos, NCLR's parental-engagement curriculum that will debut at Rhodes and Highland Park Elementary School in the fall. [Mike Rose/photos by J. Michael Short]

June 7, 2011