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Education Advocate of the Month: Xochilt Lopez

At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for June: Xochilt Lopez. Read about her advocacy for children in her community.

By Ruvine Jiménez, Community Organizer, Pasco Field Office

June Education Advocate of the Month Xochilt Lopez - League of Education Voters

June Education Advocate of the Month Xochilt Lopez

We are all fortunate to know Xochilt. While she is working on her own success as a student at Yakima Valley Community College, she is also ensuring that others around her focus on their success. Xochilt is a parent ambassador for the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), as well.

Xochilt first became introduced to League of Education Voters when she was president of the board at her children’s school in Yakima. Earlier this year, she went to Olympia to support ECEAP and the Early Start Act, and needed some extra help for her children. She met Julia Warth, our Assistant Director of Policy and Government Relations, who connected Xochilt with me, the League of Education Voters Community Organizer in the Tri-Cities region.

Upon meeting Xochilt, I discovered a mom who was not only concerned for her children but also for the community’s children as well. It was right after the school tragedy in Parkland, Florida. Xochilt recognized that if we do not tend to our children, the children who suffer in silence, they either hurt themselves or they lash out at their community. (more…)

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Education Advocate of the Month: Maite Cruz

At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for May: Maite Cruz. Read about her advocacy for increasing expectations of success for her community.

May Education Advocate of the Month Maite Cruz - League of Education Voters

May Education Advocate of the Month Maite Cruz

18-year-old Maite Cruz is a senior at Chiawana High School in Pasco, and plans to study political science this fall at Western Washington University. Already she has testified before the state legislature in Olympia, testified before the State Board of Education, and has been a tireless advocate for her community group, Ambassadors of Lakeview Achieving Success (ALAS).

Maite met League of Education Voters Community Organizer Ruvine Jiménez during her freshman year of high school, when she started attending Pasco Discovery Coalition meetings. Ruvine showed Maite how she could become a more active advocate for her community and her peers, and guided Maite through the process of organizing community forums. Maite recalls, “Ruvine came to Lakeview, and showed us statistics about my school and how it compares with other schools.”

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Education Advocate of the Month: Brenda Yepez

At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for February: Brenda Yepez. Read about her advocacy for English Language Learners.

Brenda Yepez February 2018 Education Advocate of the Month - League of Education Voters

February Education Advocate of the Month Brenda Yepez

Brenda Yepez is one of the founders of a student group called the Ambassadors of Lakeview Achieving Success (ALAS), which began her advocacy journey. Brenda attended our Tri-Cities Student Legislative Roundtable in December, where students spoke with legislators about their community work, and she testified at the State Board of Education January meeting to ask for additional supports for English Language Learner (ELL) students. In addition to advocating for the Dream Act in Washington D.C., Brenda herself is a DACA student attending the Washington State University Richland campus.

She became involved with League of Education Voters through Ruvine Jiménez, our Tri-Cities community organizer. Brenda recalls, “By the time I met Ruvine, I was a member of the ALAS community group, and I am now in my fifth year with them. I started as a high school student and now I’m in college, so I’m a mentor.” At last month’s State Board of Education meeting, Brenda shared ideas of what she and her peers thought about education, specifically the new 24-credit high school graduation requirement. “Ruvine asked me to talk about my experience and thoughts as a college student, being engaged with ALAS. They’re high schoolers and some are about to graduate,” she says. “I described how I went through high school and what changes I saw.”

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Education Advocate of the Month: Nikki Lockwood

At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for January: Nikki Lockwood. Read about her advocacy for students with special needs.

January Education Advocate of the Month Nikki Lockwood - League of Education Voters

January Education Advocate of the Month Nikki Lockwood

Nikki Lockwood has served as the lead on parent organizing for the Every Student Counts Alliance (ESCA), a group of advocates, parents, and community leaders seeking to reform school discipline in Spokane, and has worked effectively with Spokane Public Schools to change discipline policies. Parents with students of special needs look to her for advocacy when it comes to their kids.

Nikki first met League of Education Voters Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard through ESCA, and they participated in the same Spokane public community meetings. Nikki grew interested in our statewide work, while Sandra wanted to learn about experience of parents and became more involved in ESCA. “Sandra has been helpful in helping me navigate the education system,” Nikki says, “And League of Education Voters has great resources for parents in the ESCA.”

Nikki started school in a private Montessori kindergarten, and her children went through public Montessori. “My parents were teen parents,” Nikki says. “They got divorced when I was 3 years old. I am grateful and impressed that my dad provided that educational experience for me.” She greatly enjoyed the open environment of Montessori, although she remembers wondering in kindergarten what she was supposed to be doing.

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Education Advocate of the Month: David Cortinas

At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for December: David Cortinas. Read about his education journey in Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities.

December Education Advocate of the Month David Cortinas - League of Education Voters

December Education Advocate of the Month David Cortinas

While many issues can divide a community, one thing that can bring us together is wanting what is best for our students. David Cortinas, Owner, Editor, and Publisher of award-winning La Voz Hispanic Newspaper in the Tri-Cities community, is a staunch supporter of students. David kept his community engaged in the Campaign for Student Success, which led to the McCleary school funding deal in the 2017 legislative session, and he has consistently shared information to make the community stronger. He was also one of the first Eastern Washington businessmen who took time out of his busy newspaper schedule to visit with representatives and legislative aides in Olympia to ask that education funding goes to the students who need it the most.

David became involved with League of Education Voters through Tri-Cities Community Organizer Ruvine Jiménez, whom he has known for over 12 years. They served together on the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Latin Business Association, and worked together on boards and community festivals in the Tri-Cities.

David’s parents always encouraged him to go to school. “As immigrants who worked on farms, they constantly told me that I’ll never get an education if I don’t go to school,” David recalls. He attended elementary, middle, and high school in Walla Walla, where he was born and raised, and worked in the fields, harvesting onions and other crops.

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Education Advocate of the Month: Leo Perales

At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

Meet our Education Advocate of the Month for October: Leo Perales. Read about his experience as a strong advocate for equity in the Tri-Cities and beyond.

Leo Perales - League of Education Voters

October Education Advocate of the Month Leo Perales

Leo Perales is vice chair of Consejo Latino, he is part of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and was one of the first community members to join the Campaign for Student Success, the coalition that advocated during the 2017 legislative session for education funding to go toward the students who need the most support. Since 2015, Leo has worked continuously with League of Education Voters Community Organizer Ruvine Jiménez. He is involved in forums and events encouraging community activism to improve the quality of life in the Tri-Cities. He currently manages The Perales Report Facebook page.

Leo was born and raised in Kennewick, Washington, the grandson of migrant workers, and the son of Jennifer and Lloyd Perales, who have family ties to the lower Columbia Valley. He graduated from Kamiakin High School in 2005, and later transferred to Columbia Basin College and eventually Heritage University, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in 2012.

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Education Advocate of the Month: Candace Harris

At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.

We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for September: Candace Harris. Read about her experience as a strong advocate for early learning in rural Eastern Washington.

League of Education Voters September Education Advocate of the Month Candace Harris

September Education Advocate of the Month Candace Harris

Candace Harris is Director of the Valley Early Learning Center, part of the Valley School District about 45 miles north of Spokane. Because Valley is a rural school district, many of the families live in poverty. Representing rural Washington, Candace attended the Education Vision Project that League of Education Voters convened in March, where stakeholders from the Spokane region envisioned what our education system could look like. Candace has a passion for working with kids and understands the importance of teachers receiving the training they need to engage students with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and she would like to see Social Emotional Learning (SEL) incorporated into school practices.

Rural districts like Valley faces different challenges than their urban counterparts. Candace says, “There’s a lot of isolation out here – your school or early learning center can be 20 miles away, so schools end up becoming the hub of the community.” In rural areas, schools take the place of community centers. She adds, “In rural communities, we wear multiple hats, like a lot of people in education do, but it does end up looking a little different.” Candace is the Director of Valley’s Early Learning Program, is a family advocate and a family engagement coordinator for toddlers through 2nd grade, and she also does home visiting. “Resources are spread pretty thin,“ she says. “If you think about our area, there isn’t even a pediatrician. The closest one is 30 miles away in Riverside.”

Candace has lived in Stevens County her entire life. She started substituting as a para pro at Valley School District and worked to develop an early learning program. She explains, “We had childcare for employees, and the next year, we started doing the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), we then became licensed as a childcare center to serve as many people as we could. Besides us, there isn’t any other licensed childcare in our area.”

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Activist of the Month: Miguel Lucatero

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for June: Miguel Lucatero. Read about his experience as a strong advocate for Latino parents in the Tri-Cities.

League of Education Voters June 2017 Activist of the Month Miguel Lucatero

June Activist of the Month Miguel Lucatero

Miguel Lucatero is a licensed home child care provider since 2001 who is participating in the Early Achievers program. He is also the parent spokesperson for Padres de Familia Preocupados por la Educacion y el Exito de Sus Hijos (Parents of Families Concerned for the Education and Success of their Children). In March 2016, a group of Tri-Cities parents met to exchange ideas and find out which kinds of problems they were experiencing in the education system. From there, the parent group Padres Preocupados por la Educacion y el Exito de Sus Hijos was born, and they have continued to meet monthly.

Last month, Mr. Lucatero wrote a letter to the Washington State Board of Education outlining the problems faced by his community, particularly the loss of tutoring services provided under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) planning stages began.

Miguel has been living in Washington State for 20 years. When asked what drives him, he says, “I am a person who likes to work because I am concerned for the future, the best interest of our children, and the well-being of the community.”

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Activist of the Month: Elaine Woo

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for May: Elaine Woo. Read about her experience as a strong advocate for science education and fair funding.

League of Education Voters May 2017 Activist of the Month Elaine Woo

May Activist of the Month Elaine Woo

Elaine Woo works with conviction for the children of Washington state. She speaks to legislators in Olympia, visits schools, advocates through phone calls, and recently co-wrote an Op-ed for the Seattle Times.

Elaine became connected with LEV when she received an email about a Lunchtime LEVinar. Soon afterward, she met LEV state field director Kelly Munn at an activist training event, which put Elaine on a path to talking with lawmakers. “I started calling and visiting my legislators as well as writing letters,” she recalls. “It’s great how LEV helps people find a way to have a voice.”

Elaine taught elementary school for 3 years in California before heading to Okinawa to teach for a year with the Department of Defense. She then spent the next 33 years with Seattle Public Schools (SPS), with the exception of a year teaching highly capable education with Seattle Country Day School. Upon returning to Seattle Public Schools, she taught in the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) as well as in the regular classroom for the next 12 years.

After Elaine became the assistant principal at Bryant Elementary in Seattle, she was asked to help parents develop a science program for the school. She says, “Some of the parents told me that every child in Seattle needs a good science education, not just in this school.” Soon afterward, Elaine was approached by Valerie Logan, the wife of noted biologist Dr. LeRoy Hood. Both Logan and Hood took major leadership in helping the Bryant School community and the entire district  apply for a grant from  the National Science Foundation (NSF). With the NSF grant, other grants, and district funds, the professional development program was continually developed and implemented for 16 years providing researched-based professional development for elementary teachers.

Elaine worked as an assistant principal at Bryant and then principal at John Rogers Elementary for about six years before leading the grant efforts for science teacher professional development in the Seattle Public Schools central office. “The experience taught me about change,“ she explains. “There are certain areas where each of us just doesn’t want to change.” She learned that making policies stronger is  difficult but crucial. Elaine adds, “If policies are better and more supportive, then teachers can do better for their students.”

She has a big issue with elementary science, because there is so much pressure to focus on literacy and math that principals and/or teachers in Washington are left to decide whether or not science will be taught. Elaine says, “It’s too late for many students if you wait until middle school for full-year science.” She also likes the concept of ensuring that students can pass a science assessment before leaving high school. Elaine believes that if a biology assessment, for example, is required for graduation, it sends a message to the students that they need to work harder. She says, “Adults find excuses not to include a science test for graduation. People cling to those barriers, maybe because it’s  less work, which is tragic for kids.”

Elaine’s philosophy is that if a teacher has high expectations, participates in research-based professional development, and provides effective support, then students will achieve better. Outside the classroom, our kids need good instruction and support at home, as well. She also weighs in on the McCleary education funding debate. She says, “The accountability portion of McCleary is really hard, but it’s really important.” She notes that there has to be support from superintendents, principals, and parents for raising the bar. “Legislators are walking a fine line,” she explains. “We need to thank them for their hard work.”

On LEV, she says, “The work LEV is doing is fantastic – helping parents and students find information outside of the system.” And when judging her own efforts on behalf of Washington kids, Elaine humbly says, “I don’t do enough, and I’d like to do more.”

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Activist of the Month: Sameth Mell

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for March: Sameth Mell. Read about his experience as a strong advocate for education, housing, and immigrant communities.

League of Education Voters March Activist of the Month Sameth Mell

March Activist of the Month Sameth Mell

Sameth Mell is an active leader with the Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees & Communities of Color (CIRCC), serving on the leadership and advocacy committees. He works for the Mount Baker Housing Association as the Outreach & Resident Services Manager, helping residents access needed services and programs, and helping them to engage in their community. He is also responsible for connecting the agency at large to community based organizations and public officials, and works on legislative materials. He is a community activist extraordinaire on behalf of the Cambodian community and many social justice issues that the community faces.

Sameth supported the Campaign for Student Success (C4SS) by adopting its three principles of funding and fairness, talent, and accountability as part of CIRCC’s advocacy agenda for this year, along with other priorities that focus on housing development for communities in South Seattle, opposition to building a new youth jail, and ending fines for formerly incarcerated people that often prevent them from being able to support themselves.

After he put together CIRCC’s advocacy agenda, Sameth then scheduled C4SS group meetings with four Seattle City Council members to date, and seven state legislators. As a small group, C4SS met with council members Burgess, Johnson, Herbold and Harrell. Each time, C4SS had thoughtful conversations with the council member about the priorities on our advocacy agenda, and C4SS has asked the council member to sign onto the Campaign for Student Success. Of the four, one has signed on so far. Sameth is now working on setting up more appointments with the remaining Seattle City Council members.

Sameth was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after his parents fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. After his father died in the camp, his mother signed up to relocate him and his three siblings to the United States in 1985.

Living in poverty in mid-1980s Seattle, Sameth wondered why he was transferred from High Point Elementary School near his home and bused to Lafayette Elementary seven miles away. He didn’t understand the policies then.

Sameth became involved in Asian Counseling and Referral Service’s APIRA (Asian Pacific Islander Rising Above) program in his teen years, and started to recognize his Khmer identity as being important to him. He began working on identity politics, recognizing racism and oppression and addressing more of that as he grew older. Sameth says, “I saw organizing as a way to effect change and create equity for my community members.”

In addition to C4SS, Sameth is working with the Cambodian-American Community Council of Washington State to create scholarships. They have strong advocates from the education sector working on the education subcommittee, particularly around mentorship to help students continue to higher education. He hopes to have conversations with elected officials about helping support Cambodian-Americans attain degrees and certificates, and share stories about the Khmer Rouge genocide.

When Sameth went to high school, there were only two paragraphs about the Khmer Rouge genocide in his history books. He would like to see an education mechanism to educate the general public about the genocide so that his community can take pride in overcoming that, and draw attention to its implications in today’s political climate. He says, “Refugees don’t come to America because they just want a better life. My mother never asked to be here. We had no choice but to survive.”

Sameth says all the issues he works on intersect. In addition to C4SS, he is supporting the creation of a Filipino Community Center, construction of the Mount Baker Gateway Project to build 250 affordable housing units in Southeast Seattle, and the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). He says, “We’re rewriting the narrative – ecology equals affordable housing. If we want to build on a space contaminated by solvents, we need to get MTCA funds to make that happen.”

His overall plan is create spaces where people can live, celebrate their cultures, and have access to quality education. After all, Sameth says, “We have along Rainier the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the country.”

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