On the stage as keynote speaker in Denver recently, I introduced the words “expectation reform” to the large gathering of K-12 educators and administrators attending the Green Schools National Conference. This came after sharing three stories of three “Latinnovators” and their creatively advantaged childhoods that laid the foundation for them to become innovators and environmental entrepreneurs.
What I said after showing the case studies was this: it’s time to rethink using the socioeconomic term”disadvantaged” when describing the many Latino children in our nation’s classrooms – a word that was used to describe me and my own family during my childhood. I stated that it’s time to start seeing them holistically, as the “creatively advantaged” children they are. It’s time to understand that they share the culture and foundation of the three “Latinnovators” from Latinnovating that the audience was introduced to in my talk. (Carmen, Humberto, Sandra.)
I challenged the members of the audience to each practice their own expectation reform when they return to their schools. I asked them to stop fixating on the family’s current economic circumstance and using that dirty little word “disadvantaged” which naturally leads to low expectations of the children. I encouraged them to reflect on the stories I had shared, how these three Latinos moved from that “disadvantaged” beginning into higher education, into their careers and into their roles as innovators and business owners. I encouraged them to see, through the st0ries I presented, instead who these children can become, to use the case studies I presented to see the potential of today’s Latino children. I saw many heads nodding in agreement. I told them that the one thing that made the biggest difference to those of us who were the first in our immigrant families to go to college, was that someone (usually a non-Latino) stepped in to provide a mentoring intervention and insist that we go to college. I asked them to read the “Two by 2020 Mentoring Challenge” and commit to mentoring two Latinos to graduate from college by 2020.
I stressed that the green schools movement presents a unique opportunity to better connect with Latino families and students, to challenge the students and parents to lead some of the many initiatives being implemented in schools, from school gardens, to green clubs, to garden-to-kitchen programs to encourage healthy eating, to adopting renewable energy in schools. I hoped my message would resonate with the very mainstream audience of educators.
Afterward, while signing books at the conference bookstore, one woman approached with a stack of 10 books she had just purchased. I asked if they were for her students. She said, “No, I’m a member of a local school board. This one is for me, this one is for my superintendent, and these are copies for each member of our school board, because they need their expectations reformed about the Latino students in our school district.”
WOW. Someone heard me and took action. It’s moments like this that make all the hard work worthwhile. I was reminded in this moment and since, of how privileged I am to have been entrusted to tell the stories of accomplished, courageous educated Latinos in many forums across the nation where these stories will change minds and change life trajectories.
I’m happy to be able to take on this mission to rebrand the word “Latino” in the minds of millions that have never been exposed to positive imagery of Latinos. It’s time to identify and redefine ourselves as the diverse, complex, creative, contributing community that we are and to put an end to being defined by shallow, old, tired images in this country. I’m happy to play my little part in this movement and to take the message into the K-12 system where it can really make an impact one teacher, one classroom, one school at a time!