They Can Take Away Our Garden But They Can’t Take Away Our Unity
by Marie Issa Gil, Bay Area Regional Director
“Our children feel like second class citizens.” This feeling comes from Rocketship Futuro Academy parent Sasha Hickman, Principal Jason Colon, and a host of other Futuro community members. Why? Because the local school district has routinely targeted the school, students, and families with discriminatory language and action.
The first Rocketship school in the East Bay, Rocketship Futuro Academy has only been open a few months and already our parents have created a community of pride around their school. Rocketship Futuro Academy is co-located on the Ayers Elementary campus in Concord. Made up of six portables, the Futuro campus houses Rocketeers from kindergarten to second grade. ‘Purpose’ is the school’s fifth core value, as chosen by the Futuro parents and community supporters.
All Children Deserve a Hot, Nutritious Meal
Our Futuro Rocketeers are driving towards their purpose of getting a great education and into college. However, this journey to college has been more difficult than it should be as the Mt. Diablo Unified School District puts barriers in our Rocketeers’ way. The District has not complied with legal requirements of this Prop 39 temporary space, which includes providing Rocketship with a legally-compliant servery (space from which to serve food). Over 80% of Rocketship Futuro Academy students qualify for Free and Reduced Price Meals, which are paid for by the National School Lunch Program. The National School Lunch Program is designed to ensure that schools that serve disadvantaged students do not have to divert money from academic supports to provide a healthful, hot lunch to students who often lack access to nutritious meals at home. MDUSD’s refusal to provide a compliant servery puts these funds at risk.
Denial of Recreational Facilities Leave Students Separate and Unequal
The District is also not complying with the mutual use agreement in regards to sharing the blacktop for PE, which was covered extensively in both local and national news. Futuro Rocketeers have not been able to have PE or play on the blacktop as promised, and with all the recent rain, that has led to a lot of muddy recesses and missed PE classes.
“It has been frustrating that my daughter does not have a school building for her school. The children need, actually deserve [is] a better word, to have their own school. These children work very hard . . . The children deserve to be treated as equal, they are children. The value of their education should be treated with the same as any other child; whether he be white, African-American, Asian-American they are children, they deserve to be treated equally . . . It is sad how our neighbor school has us marginalized in this area, in this bush area where we do not have the same opportunity as the rest of the children from the other school. For what reason, I am not sure but it feels because of who we are. We are being pushed aside and it is not fair.” – Veronica Alvarado, Rocketship Futuro parent.
Futuro staff, students, and parents have been trying to make the best of the situation, but it’s not easy. “The grass area that we’ve been given to utilize is filled of potholes . . . the times that it rains, they have traveled outside to the restrooms in the rain and in the cold . . . The staff has to be extremely careful so our children are not harmed or get dirty. The times that we’ve attempted to play in the designated play area the other children from the Ayers Elementary consistently point and ask why they are there. This allows for a sense of separation. This makes our children feel [bad] about themselves. Additionally, the fences that were places around our school made our children feel like second class citizens.” – Sasha Hickman, Rocketship Futuro parent.
Children Should Have Welcoming and Culturally Appropriate Spaces at School
Futuro parents and staff decided that they wanted to beautify the small campus in order to show the immense pride that they have in their school and try to make it a joyful, beautiful place for students. Parents came together on a weekend to plant native plants and put down pavers the students had decorated so that kids would not get as muddy walking through the Futuro campus. These small changes, combined with the college flags Futuro staff put on the chain link fence surrounding the school, made Futuro look more like a welcoming school.
And yet, the Mt Diablo Unified School District demanded that Futuro take all of this down, even though none of it impedes on the Ayers campus.
“In terms of the garden, I volunteered all day to help the space look better, and I felt very saddened that they would not allow us to keep the set up. There have been moments where my children and I have walked through that walkway to get to our school, and feel watched and mocked . . . This is very unjust. They are children, and they deserve better.” – Beatriz Arzate, Rocketship Futuro parent.
“Our parents and staff community has attempted to create a community environment. Yet, we have always been made to feel like our presence has been a disturbance to the Ayers Elementary community,” – Andrew Lebron, Rocketship Futuro parent.
“It has been difficult to co-exist when they [MDUSD] treat us in this way, as it’s a personal attack. This is not fair. What is this teaching the children? This is not fair, and we deserve to be seen as equal on this campus and in our community.” – Vienna Bautista, Rocketship Futuro parent.
“The Mount Diablo School District is not respecting the promised spaces. It’s not fair for the kids.” – Olivia Garcia, Rocketship Futuro parent.
United: Community, Collaboration, and Commitment to Education Will Prevail
While the District’s actions are deeply discouraging, they are not breaking the spirits of our Futuro parents. As testified to in this video, “We are very united as parents, and we know that together we can achieve anything. They can take away our garden, but they can’t take away our unity.”
“…our children deserve the same conditions and quality of education. I want our voice to be heard. Our students deserve to become better students than me and our previous generations.” – Clara Lopez, Rocketship Futuro parent.
“We are of course going to keep supporting Rocketship because it is the best option for the future of our children.” – Jazmin Valdez, Rocketship Futuro parent.
“Rocketship has been a blessing and a great help for my family, not only for my daughter, but for all my family.” – Norma Rocha, Rocketship Futuro Academy parent.
Futuro staff and families will continue to fight for the rights of our Rocketeers. Our children deserve access to a high-quality education and not to be treated as second class citizens.
As Rocketship Education’s Regional Director for the San Francisco Bay Area, Marie is responsible for the planning, growth, and success of Rocketship’s network of high-quality, elementary charter schools in San Jose, Redwood City, and the East Bay.
Marie has been building community linkages through collaborative partnerships with public, private and nonprofit organizations. She spent many years advocating for children with special needs, creating and expanding community health programs, organizing healthcare workers to find their collective voice and advocate for their rights, and working to advance opportunities for people of color. Her work has been instrumental in bridging the gap between the community and socio-economic institutions including health and human service agencies, educational systems, law enforcement and legal justice agencies. Marie grew up in the Bay Area before moving to Mexico to be near family, coming back in her early career to work for a better future for marginalized families.
Marie earned both a Bachelor’s degree and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of San Francisco. A charter mom herself, Marie has experienced first-hand what it is like to advocate for better schools for her children. She enjoys time with her family, her church, and her two puppies.
Published on February 6, 2017