Organizing for the rights of immigrants students and their parents

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Since 2005, we have worked to organize Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents and youth around issues of public education and school access in order to improve language access for parents and families, increase accountability, and promote the educational advancement of immigrant students.

In 2008, JUNTOS and the South East Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC), partnered to form the Philadelphia Immigrant/Refugee Coalition (PIRC). The Coalition includes JUNTOS, SEAMAAC, the Education Law Center, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC), and the Public School Notebook. PIRC developed an organizing campaign that aims to develop immigrant parent and student leaders throughout schools in the south region of the School District of Philadelphia to institute district-wide policy change and improve services for English Language Learners (ELLs). In 2010, JUNTOS formally became a member of the Cross City Campaign, a city-wide education organizing coalition.

The first two years of PIRC’s work focused on pressuring the Philadelphia School District to create an adequate infrastructure for language access for parents and students. In 2008, we were instrumental in the hiring of over one million dollars worth of additional bilingual staff across the District, as well as the creation of the Offices of Translation and Interpretation and Multilingual Family Support Services.

In 2010, JUNTOS focused on leadership development amongst Latino parents with a specific emphasis on parent-led school improvement at low performing schools. JUNTOS instituted a standardized parent leadership and advocacy school, based off a six-workshop series, which we hope to offer every year. JUNTOS has developed and worked with parent leaders whose children attend 12 schools in South Philadelphia including: Nebinger Elementary, Southwark Elementary, Kirkbride Elementary, Jackson Elementary, George Washington Elementary, Childs Elementary, Fell Elementary, Key Elementary, Taggert Elementary, Abigail Vare Elementary, Furness High School, and South Philadelphia High School.

In May 2011, parent leaders hosted the “Family Forum for Immigrant-Friendly Schools”, attended by over 200 community members, allies, and District staff. Principals from five local schools attended, as well as staff from four additional schools and members of the School District’s leadership team. In this forum, parents shared the results of their school-based survey, led workshops on issues of concern to the immigrant community, and shared their vision for effective immigrant-friendly schools.

Parents on our standing parent committee continue to work closely with neighborhood principals and various School District offices to implement elements of their plan in specific neighborhood schools. They are a constant voice for ELL needs and services at the School Reform Commission and before District leadership.

In 2011, JUNTOS will begin organizing Latino youth at local South Philadelphia high schools.