Mariela Meza-Armenta, Director of Advocacy and External Affairs, KIPP NYC (top left)
Rosemary Valdez, School Operations Manager, KIPP Washington Heights Middle School (top right)
Lenni Santana, Parent and Member of Regional Family Council, KIPP Washington Heights Middle School (below)
This month is full of celebrations for me. I’m celebrating my Latinidad and community through National Hispanic Heritage Month. This month also marks my 6th anniversary working at KIPP NYC leading Advocacy efforts. When combined with my years as a KIPP student in the Bronx, I’ve been part of the KIPP NYC “team and family” now for 20 years! I’m excited to introduce you to two Latina women who I am honored to work with as Director of Advocacy.
The highlight of my work has always been to get to know families and work with teammates like Rosemary, the Advocacy Representative for KIPP Washington Heights Middle School, which is located in the community where she grew up. Rosemary is invested in making family voices heard inside and outside of KIPP. Rosemary and I plan regularly to ensure KIPP NYC students are receiving their fair share of resources to attain a high-quality education. She is a KIPP mom (since 2005!) and a founding staff member at her school. Rosemary said the following about her advocacy role:
“I leaned into it because I am a KIPP fan. I strongly believe the work our educators do for our kids is life changing. KIPP focuses on the whole child – not just academics. Working in a school; I was curious. How do they work with my kids?”
Rosemary also shared the following core element of her advocacy work:
“We encourage families to vote. We educate them. We connect them to resources. We share info about candidates and how they are aligned with issues that matter the most to our community. We empower our families. This is one of the things I tell families: if you want to support me, this is something we do. This is civic engagement.”
She recalls that one of the most meaningful activities we did together was inviting an elected official to visit her school:
“It was great having [NY State Senator] Marisol Alcantara [visit KIPP Washington Heights Middle School]. She had a child who attended a public school. I feel it’s important for elected officials to visit our schools because it’s a different experience than visiting a traditional public school. It’s a different vibe and culture.”
The Senator’s visit was the culmination of the work that Rosemary and I planned and executed for families. It was really fulfilling to have our community representative visit classrooms and see our students in action. Senator Alcantara also met with parents who shared why they chose KIPP for their children.
I not only have Rosemary as a thought partner, but Lenni as well. Lenni is a KIPP mom who serves as a family representative for our Regional Family Council. When Lenni was looking for a school for her two daughters, she mentioned choosing KIPP because:
“My values coincided with KIPP’s values. In visiting KIPP, I could tell we were on the same page. Education wise, they always go above and beyond. They always tend to surprise me. In advocating for the kids, I wanted to find an organization where you feel like you’re partnering with them. We have to be family; we need to understand each other; we need to be on the same page. Whether it’s social or emotional, I felt that this was the best partnership”.
Throughout her eight years at KIPP, Lenni built a relationship with her school’s Advocacy Representative, who connected her to the Regional Family Council. The Council meets with KIPP NYC leadership monthly to provide feedback on decisions that impact our 18 schools. Lenni shared her experience with the Council:
“We had speakers who touched on reading and different cultures, and the different books kids would be reading. I like that about KIPP; they touch on everyone’s culture. Everyone’s acknowledged. Overall, It’s been a growing process for me. Being Dominican you’ve always been told you put your head down and do your work. I don’t feel that way; I’m going against the current. Being a woman, being Dominican, if something’s wrong and I don’t feel right about it, why can’t I voice my opinion? At KIPP, you feel good about being able to speak up. That’s something I’m doing with my daughters from an early age. It’s OK to question things. It’s about women empowering women.”
When I reflect about the partnership with Rosemary and Lenni, it is clear to me that we are moving towards fulfilling our mission of “Together with families and communities”. We amplify parent power inside AND outside of our schools, all in the very best interests of our students.