As a mother of three boys who are growing up in Little Village, the quality of our local schools is one of my main concerns. For the most part, my experience with the schools available to us has not been very positive, but recently I have begun to have some hope.

To me, the main problem is that the people running the schools seem not to want to listen. Some teachers and principals seem to think that they are the only ones who know anything about teaching our children. It may be that they fear parents or outsiders, but way too many times I have felt that I am not welcome at my children’s schools. Some school staff have looked at me as if I were there to steal something. Non-English speaking parents often get the worst treatment. Discouraged, many of them will avoid going to their children’s school at all costs. How can this contribute to a child’s education?

Even worse than schools not being welcoming to parents is that they are not always welcoming to kids. Once, when I was talking to a staff person at my son’s school, a student came to the office to retrieve headphones taken from him the day before. The school employee told him to get out, calling him a Apiece of shit.” I couldn’t believe it, and today I feel so bad for not having done anything about it. Although this might be an extreme example, I have seen how schools are set up for kids to just receive orders. The atmosphere is not respectful, and kids understand this and often rebel.

Two of my friends who have taught in the public schools, Olga Vega and Maria Lira, believe that one of the main problems in elementary schools is that each is doing its own thing, with little coordination among them. Even within some schools, there seems to be little planning or coordination. Olga says that kids may be taught the exact same thing in 3rd grade and then again in 5th grade. Maria says there are discrepancies in resources, too, with some schools having more and better equipment than others.

The mother of four young children, Olga tells me that the schools we have here are one of the reasons she wants to move away. She says she wants her children’s schools to challenge them but that many do the opposite because they assume kids will not make it.

Olga and Maria agree with me that small classrooms and even small schools seem to work better than large ones.

All of us are members of ACORN, which helped me and my neighbors start a small charter school last year. It is the first one in a Latino neighborhood. We knew that we were taking a chance, but considering the graduation rate and overall performance at our local high school, the one my oldest son goes to, we decided we had to give it a try.

This school is a grassroots effort that we in the community see as a victory. We feel this is really our school, and we will stick with it forever. We are eager to start our second year with 125 students who will be learning and experiencing what members of the community believe is most important.

Maria Asuncion Torres is the mother of three sons, a 2-year-old, an 8th-grader and a high school senior.

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