• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2012 •Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.

An Interview with Joe Medrano of the START Center in South Texas

Editor’s Note: In this “Courageous Connections” feature, IDRA senior education associate, Aurelio M. Montemayor, Ed.D., interviews Jose Medrano, of the START Center, South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center of San Benito, Texas, and chair of the education committee of the Equal Voice Network. Below is an excerpt of their conversation, edited for space. The full interview is available through the IDRA Classnotes Podcast.

Mr. Medrano on Coalition Building:

The education committee of the Equal Voice Network works with parents, guided by IDRA. What we are trying to do is to empower and train our parents so that they have a voice in the education of their children. The organizations represented on this committee are ARISE, Proyecto Juan Diego, the START Center, SCAN out of
Rio Grande City, LUPE and others. This network, supported by the Marguerite Casey Foundation, makes up Equal Voice in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

We are now a voice where for many years the education system had been dictating to parents and families to do things. In this committee, we are trying to educate parents and create leaders from PTAs that are forming from this committee. Our families are taking leadership in their school districts all across the Valley. They are attending board meetings, empowering themselves and advocating for change. As the first educators in the family and supported by teachers, the families need to have an equal voice in decisions that are made at a local level, at a state level and at a federal level. The Equal Voice Network in the Rio Grande Valley is part of a national campaign – something we would like to see duplicated all across the country.

We have many challenges. The working parents our agencies work with lack the knowledge of how the school system works. They don’t know about legislation and policy issues related to education that could have a negative impact on the students.

Mr. Medrano on Examining Local Dropout Data:

Part of our role with this committee was to learn about the real issues. We didn’t realize what the true dropout rate is in our communities across the Valley. We became educated about the state’s “leaver codes” and the different slots where numbers could go into. This was surprising to us. For the parents involved it was an eye opener for them. The schools are playing with numbers. It’s like a shell game. We, as parents and as community, are not getting all of the true information. We realized that all across South Texas there is a problem with dropout rates and that it was time to move on this.

Mr. Medrano on the Use of a Promotoras Group:

At the START Center we have started a small promotoras (outreach workers) group, similar to those of ARISE, Proyecto Juan Diego and all the Equal Voice agencies involved in education. We take education information and teach our promotoras who work out of our centers. They are the voice for their agency. But at the same time, it is the same voice with the same information that is going out to the colonias (unincorporated poor communities) and our cities. It’s disseminating this information from Point A to Point B. We might not all be on the same page, but we are getting to a point where we have an equal voice here in south Texas.

Mr. Medrano on Coalition as an Important Concept:

The more individuals are involved, the more information can be brought in from these agencies as well. For example, with education and dropout rates: If we all are on the same page, we all know this needs attention. Our
START Center focuses on GED and ESL, but we would rather have students complete their education in a public school system. But that doesn’t always happen. With this coalition, each group brings a different resource and different perspective. And when you bring in all these individuals together advocating for the same issues, there is more opportunity to create change.

There are some similarities in our coalition to a school district, but the differences are greater. In our coalition, there is an opportunity with a normal working parent or community resource agency not dictated to by the politics of the local school system or the state. This allows business people, community leaders and just regular parents to be involved in advocating for change in their children’s education.

Mr. Medrano on the Benefits of Finding Common Interest:

Each of the organizations has a different focus, the group in Brownsville does health outreach. LUPE is a farmworker-based organization. The START Center teaches ESL and has citizenship classes. Each organization has a slightly different focus. But they have all put education on the front burner. We are learning to do much more advocacy. We are structured to provide services, curriculum and classes. We have learned from other agencies that brought in the promotoras model.

Mr. Medrano on the Difference Between how Schools do Parent Involvement and the Promotora Model:

A lot of what the parent involvement folk do at the school level is sales of cookies and cakes – a kind of the breakfast taco mentality. We want to take our folk out of that mentality. There is nothing wrong with doing things to support the school. But it is better that the parents be educated and have an equal voice with teachers and have a conversation with the school district administration.

Comments and questions may be directed via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2012, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2012 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]