by Tracie Potochnik
Promesa Boyle Heights is a collaborative educational ecosystem in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles that works to deliberately develop relationships, coordination, and alignment across multiple partners to benefit young people and families – an approach that has seen positive, measurable outcomes.
Yesterday, AISR released a new study – “We Made a Promise: School-Community Collaboration, Leadership, and Transformation at Promesa Boyle Heights” – which details a history of the collaborative, explores Promesa’s work around partner collaboration and parent and resident voice and leadership, and investigates student outcomes and other impacts at the individual, community, school, and district level.
At the core of Promesa’s mission is the substantive engagement of parents, youth, and residents as key stakeholders, decisionmakers, and owners of the work. This level of community ownership is too often missing in collaborative education efforts, but it lays crucial groundwork for ongoing support, sustainability, and success.
When conducting interviews for the study, we had the pleasure of talking with a group of parent and resident leaders involved in Promesa’s work, and our conversations reinforced the collaborative’s core values that put parent and resident voice at the center. Our interviewees also demonstrated the capacity of parents and residents to rise to the opportunities presented, become true leaders in their community, and be partners in meaningful change. As one community partner stated, “I think me being able to work with them on a daily basis, seeing their growth as parent leaders, as individuals, and as parents, really shows you the potential, and the capacity that we have as Promesa to make those changes in that community.”
Some of the important themes that emerged in these discussions illustrate in Promesa members’ own words the power and perseverance of parents and residents, as shown in the quotes below:
Unity and Collective Power:
PARTICIPANT 1: [System decision-makers] think that we’re ignorant because we live here. Because they say, “Oh, we have to educate the community. The community isn’t educated.” No. The community is not stupid. The community is not participating because it’s never been informed. It’s never been considered. Because, if money comes in, you never know where it’s going to end up. And we’re – we're just a letter and a number to them. But they don't know who we are. Because we are not ignorant. We have power, and if we work together we can accomplish many things.
PARTICIPANT 2: That power is our voice.
Determination and Perseverance:
We have to keep going. Perseverance. . . . You never lose when you’re fighting. That’s what I tell my daughters. If you fight, you can't lose. That is, it’s another step forward. You never lose when you’re fighting.
And it makes you feel proud, to be someone who – I still, at 47, feel like I’m 15 and learning. I feel like I still have lot to learn. But, well, little by little, at the end you can say, “Well, yeah. Yeah, that’s something.”
I don't have young children anymore. They are all grown up. But I keep coming here, because I like being here. Because, well, we are mothers who are still interested in promoting the well-being of all children. So we have to keep supporting the schools because they’re really the only ones helping our children to move forward.
Pride in Place:
Before, living in East Los Angeles – it was marked. When kids would leave, it was, “Where are you from?” “I live in Boyle Heights.” “Oh, you’re in a gang. You’re a thief. You’re a drug addict.” And, thank God, over the course of the years, and with the work and the changes we’ve made, we can be proud now. Many of us have kids who have served their country, or are policemen, or are sheriffs. We have kids in college, who have graduated. We’ve erased that old image, that Boyle Heights is nothing but delinquency.
I’m happy, because my daughter fights for those rights, too. And now she’s also standing up for immigrant rights at her school, which they just finished protesting at the college. So, the example we can set is to teach our kids to fight, to fill them with these ideas, you know? To fight for your community, fight for your rights, help out.
Tracie Potochnik is a senior research associate at AISR and a co-author of the Promesa Boyle Heights study.