Dear KIPP NYC Team and Family,
When I was growing up, you never entered a room and saw your parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles without saying “Bendición, Mama” or “Bendición, Tío”. It was a sign of the profound respect one had for their families, particularly parents and grandparents. Everything was about la familia--holidays, summer vacations, food, where you lived, and what decisions you made, particularly around education.
Now as a mother of two young men of color, I know the importance of having my voice heard throughout their educational journeys. In addition to the incredible work I have had the opportunity to do at KIPP, I have always taken the time to be present in their schools--being the class parent, joining committees, and volunteering whenever I can--which they appreciated much more when they were younger and not so much now that they are in high school and college!
But, as the oldest daughter of Dominican immigrants, as much as they valued a good education, my own parents did not always have a voice or a seat at the table in the schools I attended. They were deeply invested in my education, as well as that of my four siblings. But they didn’t always feel welcome in our schools. In fact, the older I got, the more they deferred to the teachers and administration.
When I was in kindergarten at PS 98 in Inwood, my mother, who had been a teacher in the DR, volunteered in my bilingual classroom. I remember feeling so proud when she was there, and it probably helped to spark my love of school and learning early. I also remember my second-grade teacher struggling to understand my father at report card night at St. Jude School, where I went from first through eighth grade--and the relief that I felt because she was smiling and was welcoming to Papi being in her classroom. It was the same pride I felt once a year when I was in high school on Park Avenue, and my parents brought our typical arroz con pollo and pastelitos to the Family Day potluck. I also remember that those opportunities for connection between my home life and my school life became less frequent the older I got.
When I came to KIPP NYC to lead what was then KIPP Through College, oftentimes parents of alumni would tell me I was their students’ second mother. And I would usually say “Madrina, quizás. Pero nunca madre.” The role of parents and families is the foundation of our students, and paramount. They are our partners, they trust us with their children, and to be their partners in educating their students is a privilege that we as educators are fortunate to have, and in the home I grew up in, revered.
As we come to the end of Latinx Heritage Month, I am proud to share this special edition of KIPP NYC Voices with each of you. It highlights my colleague, KIPP alumna and Director of Advocacy, Mariela Meza, and the extraordinary work she has done building a culture at KIPP where parent and family voices are heard and amplified. I hope we continue to honor the very special families of our students and continue to seek their partnership and guidance as we travel this KIPP NYC journey together.
I’d like to leave you with a look at how our students and staff have honored Hispanic cultures over the past four weeks: