In 2014, PVF awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents for coming up with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco or Alameda Counties with an innovative, community-oriented idea.
PVF interviewed each grantee to give you a sense of what these amazing individuals are doing to change their communities for the better. Below is our second interview is with Christian Martinez. Christian is using his award to organize and conduct teacher home visits to families of 6th grade students at Oakland’s Epic Middle School. Goals include increasing teachers’ understanding of students’ home lives to build family-school trust, producing better academic performance and more satisfied students, teachers and families.
CM: I was born in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico. I came to this country when I was 10 years of age, along with my sister, brother, and parents searching for the American dream. My inspiration behind the project was my personal life experience going to public schools where the communication between families/ teachers wasn’t there. At the age of 17, I was a victim of crime. I was shot in my right leg a few blocks away from the school where I was attending at the time. I was out of schools for a few weeks and no one from school contacted my parents regarding my absences, instead just assuming I was another drop out. A few months later my father passed away and the same thing happened. At that point, I realized that the school system had failed me and perhaps I wasn’t the only one that felt that way.
PVF: Why are you interested in creating change in your community?
CM: I’m very interested in creating change in my community because where I live, I see a lot of young people with a lot of talent who only need someone to push them and believe in them. I work at a middle school in the Fruitvale area where most of the students there are predominately Latino. A lot of them come from broken households and most of them are aspiring to be the first generation of their families to go to college or even graduate high school. I believe that if a student is disengaged in education, this is because someone somewhere, somehow failed them, and it is our job as educators to change that mindset. Overall, I just want to create the change I wish to see in the world.
PVF: What is your hope with how this project will create change?
CM: The hope with this project is to open the eyes of teachers, parents, and students that communication is a key component to keeping students on the path to success. We are all responsible for igniting knowledge in the young minds of the students we come across in our lives. Mainly, I hope teachers see students outside the school gates and realize that there is more than just teaching in a classroom. When you want to create change or impact students’ lives you really need to be involved 100% and engage parents in their child’s education.
PVF: What communities are you targeting for these home visits? Can you tell us about the people you are working with?
CM: The communities that we are targeting with this project are where the students live. I work for a charter middles school located in the Fruitvale community where we have students coming from all over East Oakland. The majority of the people that we are working with are majority Latino and African American. A lot of the families are Spanish speakers only, therefore we come in with translators to make sure they understand our visit.
PVF: How do you go about establishing a partnership between families and schools? What are some challenges in doing this?
CM: The way we establish a partnership between families and school starts with a letter or phone call introducing what we are doing and why our visit is important. Most of our families are very welcoming and open to a visit. The challenges in doing this would be scheduling the visit while the parents is present. A lot of the parents have 2-3 jobs and it is very difficult for them to meet with us. We have had home visits made at their jobs, public places, late at night, and even on the weekends. Time for most of our families is very limited, but we make the effort to accommodate their schedule.
PVF: What do you want teachers to know when it comes to helping students who are struggling in school?
CM: I want teachers to know that there is more than just teaching, especially when you teach in areas with high drop-out rates, crime, and broken households. A lot of my own teachers came from areas not near my community. They didn’t sound or look like me, but wanted me to pay fully attention to their teaching without acknowledging my struggle, pain, and unprivileged life. As a student I felt that my home life didn’t matter to my teachers and school. All they wanted was for me to memorize their lessons, without realizing I had bigger problems to worry about. Sadly, that is also the case with most of our students. I hope that with my project teachers will realize that everything is connected in order for a child to succeed.
PVF: What has come out of these home visits so far? What have you learned?
CM: A lot of things have come out of these home visits, especially when it comes to behavior management. A common element in each debrief with the team is that once you visit the student’s home, you realize why he/she behaves a particular way. Everything makes sense, and we all have to have more patience and empathy for the student who struggles to control his/her emotions. One thing we have learned from the home visits is that once we make the connection with the parents, we become part of their lives and their family.
PVF: What are the next steps for you and your project?
CM: The next step will be to find funding that will allow me to both continue this project for the next three years as well as expand it to nearby schools. My dream is to bring this project to the school board with the ambition of having them implement it in all public schools within Oakland.
PVF: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
CM: We all come from different backgrounds and cultures, but we all have the power to create change in the world.