by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com
Back in March 2009, I spoke to a group of what I affectionately call “stroller moms” – or moms with toddlers – in Playa Vista, who, like so many of you, were concerned about their future public school choices. Being residents in the recently formed Playa Vista development, they knew there was talk of a new LAUSD school for their community on the horizon, but without it being built yet there were so many unanswered questions.
What kind of school would it be? What kinds of kids would it serve? Would it meet the needs and high expectations of its residents or should these parents be weighing their odds elsewhere?
With so many unknown variables, you can imagine how hard it would be to feel confident about your neighborhood school, especially when it wasn’t even built yet.
But rather than get discouraged, I shared my experience of working on behalf of a school before my daughter was even old enough to attend, so that by the time she got there we were already part of the revitalization effort. I encouraged these moms to get involved now while the school was being planned, and instead of just taking what was handed to them they had the opportunity to meet and connect with the movers and shakers of the development, the city council, the local district, the district’s Facilities department so they could have a voice in steering decisions, decisions that would directly affect their families. Most importantly, I suggested they think about starting a booster club and begin to organize and fundraise ahead of time so that by the time the school opened in 2012, they’d already be a strong and viable force. It was an inspirational night and I felt the energy in the room, but like so many of my talks, I don’t always hear how things turn out for folks.
This past month (July 2011) I went to see my husband’s band, Venice, aka Pine Mountain Logs, play an outdoor concert in Playa Vista Park. As I walked near the bandshell with my daughter, I noticed a table selling drinks laid with an assortment of papers and info. As I leaned in to get a better look, I saw the “Friends of Playa Vista School” logo and posters and beamed ear to ear like a proud mama. There they were out there galvanizing the hundreds of community members on behalf of their school, the school that wasn’t even born yet. They did it, I thought. They actually did it!
The Friends of Playa Vista School had formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, created a board and several committees, built a website, email list, and Facebook group. They were out surveying their community members, gathering support and actively engaging participation. They were organized and already advocating for their future neighborhood school. As I read about the school I learned they’d formed a partnership with LMU’s School of Education, Center for Math and Science Teaching, and College of Science and Engineering. The school will have a math, science, and environmental focus, and the facility itself will be a model of environmentally sustainable design with solar panels, recycled water, geothermal heating and cooling, and is slated to become a LEED Gold Certified school, one of only four in LAUSD with this status and the only one on the Westside of LA. The Friends are advocating for it to become a non-traditional Pilot school with certain autonomies from LAUSD, and through perseverance they were able to remove it from the Public School Choice (PSC) 3.0 open bidding process that typically happens to new schools, meaning they’ve maintained control of their school. Nice work ladies! Brava! I couldn’t be more proud.
The lesson we can all look at here is taking an unknown stress-filled challenge and instead of getting stuck there, turning it upside-down into empowered involvement. It’s amazing what we can do on behalf of our collective children when we’re motivated. It requires faith, vision, effort, organization and outreach. But we don’t have to do it alone. Once we become empowered to do something, we become the central catalyst for improvement and change, and then we inspire others around us and it spreads. Inspiration is contagious and ultimately, transformative.
Rather than spiral downward into disengagement and helplessness, we have the choice to spiral upward into empowerment, connection and transformation.
I know it can seem impossible, one mom against the big giant public school machine, especially in this economy. But take a look around you. What one little piece can you see at your school that speaks to you, that you see potential in, or have a desire to transform? What steps could you take? How can you become a catalyst for positive change? Share your story. We’re all in this together.
© 2011 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.