When I first began attending school, my teachers often seated me in the back of the classroom. My parents immigrated from Mexico and were farm workers who lived in Florida and migrated around the country based on the season. That meant I didn’t just attend school in Florida, but also in the states that we traveled to, such as Indiana and Michigan.
At the time, I could not speak English, so it was easy for me to be overlooked by my peers and teachers. It was such a challenge to not be able to communicate and relate to anyone. I had no Hispanic/Latino teachers and no one could speak Spanish. I had to learn at a very young age how to adapt. Fortunately, I did. I excelled academically, graduating 12th in my class, and serving as the first Latina president for the Student Government Association. Later, I had the honor of being the first Latina to be inducted into my high school’s Hall of Fame.
As I transitioned through the various roles I’ve held in public education—as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and administrator at the district office—I saw many of our migrant students face the same challenges I once did. I could relate. For this reason, I feel supporting this population is one of the most urgent priorities in education today.
Migrant students need to feel welcomed, affirmed, embraced and given as much support as possible. There is nothing better we can do for our students than to provide them a world-class education with role models who look like them, speak their language and provide a sense of belonging—especially since migrant students often face unique challenges.
In some families, there is an expectation that children should offer financial support, meaning students may neglect to attend school regularly, and end up needing additional support in academics, language development and social-emotional care. It is imperative that we try to understand their cultural experiences by engaging them openly, and trying to understand their way of life. This demonstrates a sincere effort to connect, empower and make them feel welcomed.
As I learned myself, representation matters; it helps to enrich learning environments where all students can see themselves reflected in those that serve them. For this reason, it is important to review and ensure that hiring practices are fair, reasonable and equitable.
One step I have taken as the president for the Florida Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, is to meet with superintendents to discuss employment equity and representation. FL-ALAS provides leadership that assures every school across the State of Florida effectively serves the educational needs of all students, with a particular emphasis on Hispanic/Latino youth by building capacity, promoting best practices and transforming educational institutions. We review things like the qualification criteria for new job postings to make sure we are not screening out good applicants, and we talk about the importance of creating ethnically diverse committees to develop hiring criteria in the future.
Additionally, I’ve analyzed personnel data from the Florida Department of Education, and reviewed qualification and eligibility requirements for administrative job vacancies. Sharing this information with school district leaders helps initiate bigger conversations around hiring practices and the processes in use within their districts.
Taking these small but brave steps helps to highlight the importance of equitable hiring practices for school and district leaders. It’s one significant way we can help to increase diversity among educators and administrators, not only so that we can properly represent diverse and marginalized student populations, but so that they feel that representation as well.