Youth Voices and Activism in the PTA Comunitario
I got involved in ARISE because of my mother. My mother would participate in the meetings for ARISE, and she would come to the community PTA, and she would bring me. And then I started being a volunteer in ARISE, and that’s how I got involved – about six years ago, when I was sixteen. When I started volunteering, I started participating in the summer program, and from there I started being a volunteer animator with kids from first and second grade at this program called Lectura de Verano – “Summer Reading.” And then from there I just started getting involved in ARISE, and now I’m on the staff at ARISE. My role is called an “animator,” and it involves being around the community, coordinating meetings, and going to the community door-to-door to show the kinds of programs we have. We animate women, children, and youth from the community to participate in our program and to be leaders of their own community.
When there’s a PTA meeting, we go door-to-door and explain what a comunitario PTA meeting is, and we go and animate the community to come to our PTA. When parents hear “PTA,” they think it will be in English, because when the school’s PTA invites them, the community basically doesn’t go because it’s just in English. Our community PTA is based in the language of the community, which is Spanish. If we bring in speakers who speak English, there is someone who will translate for the community. And when we tell them that the point of the meeting is to hear from our community, they get interested. And what I’ve seen is that the community actually comes to the community PTA meetings, and they advocate, and they learn.
When I was in high school, my mother didn’t speak very much English. She wouldn’t attend any of the PTA meetings at school, and she wouldn’t even go and ask how I was doing at school, because she didn’t know any English. And now, going to PTA comunitario meetings with my mom is motivating me to do what she couldn’t do with me, with my brother and sister. Now my mother has learned a little bit more, and we actually go to the schools and we go and check up on my sister, now that she’s in high school, how she’s doing on her credits. Even though I work at ARISE, I still like coming to the PTA meetings. It has shown me how not to be nervous, how to ask questions, and learn a little bit more about my sister and her school.
When I was in high school, I didn’t take the college prep classes because I didn’t know that it was for my own good. I always thought it was really hard taking those classes. And one of the things I remember in one of the PTA meetings: they said that as Latinos, we don’t take those classes because we don’t want to struggle or we worried it’s too much for us. From there, I learned that it was fine for my sister to take those college classes. My mom and I talked to her about it, and at first my sister didn’t want to take the college classes because she was scared that it would be too much, and we pushed her and animated her to get those classes. And now she’s actually in college classes and she’s doing really well.
The youth are involved in the community PTA too. They are actually members of the PTA, and when we have meetings with families, the youth come with their parents, and they hear about the school credits, things that they know, and the youth try to explain to the community, too. I guess in one way, our youth tell their parents what goes on in school and the problems that they have in school. When I go to the community PTA meetings, I sometimes hear the parents bringing up problems that their kids are having in school, and I’m, like, “Oh, I had that problem, too.” And maybe this way, we can help each other.
And it’s not just the meetings. We have trainings for the youth every month. And we have a week of retreat for them in the summer. That’s when they plan a project that they want to do during the year to help the community. We ask them, what are the problems that you see in your community? What are the things you want to change? They’re the ones who actually plan what project they want to do. At ARISE, we might help them, but it’s all based on them.
This year, it was the wastewater treatment plant that they wanted to change. They have educated the community on how to advocate on rights. They actually made this community meeting, and they educated the community on the problem that we’ve been having here in the community, which is a really bad odor – they wanted to stop the smell. Some people in the community say that they have complained, but there hasn’t been any change. A group of youth leaders started passing out flyers door-to-door to the community, and started giving a little bit of information about what’s causing the smell, and as a community member what they could do. And one man from the community said it was a really good thing that the youth were taking action on a community problem, and that he was going to assist at any of the community meetings that the youth could make. We’ve been working in collaboration with the city, trying to find grant money to buy a mechanical wastewater treatment plant. We’ve been working with the EPA and a lot of other different organizations, and the youth have actually gone and presented the project at the courthouse, and they have shown it to the city, to the commissioner.
There are younger kids from our community that see our youth volunteers, and those kids have said that they want to be a volunteer when they grow up. They want to be volunteers and they want to help other kids. And some of our youth go to college, some start working, but they still come, any chance that they have, they still come. And they come over and they still help with our kids from the community. That’s what they love – they love seeing the kids from the community happy.