Alma Loredo | Photo, Claudia Meléndez Salinas
Alma Loredo’s son was almost done with elementary school when one of his teachers told him he was having problems. He wasn’t passing his classes. Loredo decided to take action and, along the way, has become one of the most recognized emerging leaders in East Salinas.
“My son was always very smart, in elementary school, in high school, but in sixth grade he disconnected,” she said in an interview. For Loredo, it is not that her son stopped being smart, but that the teacher did not understand that all children are different.
“My son learns differently,” she said.
She deduced the reason why her son was not successful in school was more complex, not only because of his learning style, but also due to teachers and the school system. So she tried to meet with teachers and looked for support at school, but she did not find it.
“Already, by the ninth grade, my son suffered anxiety and depression,” Loredo said, and she still wasn’t able to find help through the school system.
It was until her son was in high school that school officials agreed to talk to her.
“In the first meeting I had with teachers, they only had complaints; that my son did not follow through, that he did not bring homework. They never answered when I asked ‘How do I help him?’ ”
Loredo asked her son be evaluated to find out what kind of learning problem he had. “They did not want to evaluate him, they only offered me counseling that in the end they did not give me because they no longer had space.”
Along the way she met Alma Cervantes and Carmen Parra, who invited her to join a parents’ group that was being formed. Founded three years ago, Comite de Padres Unidos (United Parent Committee) now has about 20 members whose children attend different school districts in Salinas.
The group’s mission is to “transform the educational system into a healthier and more equitable one for the students of the Salinas community,” according to its Facebook page.
Two different educational systems
Loredo says that in California’s school system, parents have the responsibility “to move forward, to guide your children” and recalls the educational system in her home country, Mexico, where that responsibility falls on teachers, figures who have a lot of moral authority.
Born in the state of San Luis Potosí, she studied accounting as a technical career. She said she would have liked to study more but even though she did not have that opportunity, she wants her children to pursue their goals: “Let them be what they want to be.”
Loredo immigrated to the United States in 2000, first living in Chicago. In 2003 she moved to Salinas, when her son was 1 year old at the time, She also has two girls, who are now 10 and 13 years old.
“I came looking for a dream,” she says. “And now, my husband and I have found a dream together and another dream each on our own.” Loredo’s husband is an entrepreneur with a food catering business.
Her dream now is to advocate for education, “to be an inspiration for other parents to be involved in the education of their children,” she said.
Comité de Padres Unidos
Loredo is happy with the work of Padres Unidos. “We have accomplished a lot, we have collaborated with the schools, the Alisal District has recognizing our efforts to have school counselors, we are opening spaces for parents to come (to schools) to talk, collaborate,” she said.
“Alma has brought strength to the Committee,” said co-founder Carmen Parra. “She has passion, motivation, she has helped us move forward.”
The Parent Committee is supported by Building Healthy Communities program
in East Salinas and through that space, Alma has collaborated in the Women’s Policy Institute and was recently invited by Hartnell College to build a program that links parents to the school, and allows them to navigate the education system.
During July, United Parents attended Me to We, a state conference that took place in Fresno and was organized by Dignity in Schools. The DSC seeks to “dismantle the school-prison pipeline by supporting parents, youth, organizers and advocates to build their own community,” according to its mission statement, adding that it also “supports alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment, criminalization and the dismantling of public schools.”
Explaining her takeaway from the conference, Loredo mentions that “it is important to build an alliance with the African-American community” because its members suffer the same issues as those in the Latino community.
Padres Unidos is already engaged in this dynamic. At the beginning of the school year, it opposed a plan to incorporate police resource officers in schools, proposed by the Salinas Police Department with the idea of preventing crime. Padres Unidos called on other parents to speak with school board members to prevent this measure from being approved.
The argument against it was that this measure has the risk of turning children and young people into the criminal justice system for minor crimes. Loredo said it would seem as if the education system were focused on “directing our youth to jail.”
Changing the narrative
After experiencing the gaps of the educational system, Loredo is determined to make changes. “We have to change the narrative that Hartnell College is an institution of last resort, change the culture of non-participation of parents in schools,” she said, adding that the educational system should also recognize the role of parents in education and end the disconnection between parents and schools.
Loredo’s son has agreed to be transferred to an alternative high school with the caveat that he can return to his home high school in six months to graduate with his classmates. Loredo will continue to push for an evaluation mechanism that determines learning problems early on, and will continue to work to involve more parents in school decision-making.
“In the end, the time you participate in school is an investment,” she says. And as with all investments, Loredo hopes to win.
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