What are you leading?
I am the Co-Founder and CEO of RISE Colorado. RISE Colorado is a nonprofit organization based out of Aurora, Colorado that works to educate, engage, and empower low-income families and families of color to RISE as change agents for educational equity in our public school system.
RISE Colorado is founded on the belief that families are crucial to student and school success. Aurora – the city where RISE operates - is the most diverse school district and city in the state of CO, with families from over 130 countries speaking over 150 languages. In addition, Aurora is an official refugee resettlement city. In response, RISE is a multi-racial and multi-lingual organization that supports immigrant, refugee, Latino, African American, and low-income families to use their collective voice to define, demand, and lead systemic change to transform public schools. RISE does this through knowledge building, organizing and leadership development, so that families become active leaders in the charge for education equality in Aurora.
To date, RISE has educated over 2,000 families about the opportunity gap and their role in overcoming it, impacting over 3,000 students. Families have organized and won multiple organizing campaigns and actions to improve the public education system and academic achievement for their children. Most recently, families organized for several months and created the first community led and written resolution to be passed in the United States that supports students regardless of documentation status. A huge victory for students and families so they feel safe to attend school regardless of immigration status.
RISE also works in schools by professionally developing school leaders and teachers about the best family engagement practices and around diversity, equity, and inclusion. 96% of teachers believe that RISE is helping them to deepen relationships with their families.
How did your experiences as a fellow inspire or prepare you for what you’re doing now?
Having the opportunity to be a teacher and work with students from low income communities, and students of color that I identify with as a woman of color, was a powerful experience for me. I saw how much our families want to be involved in their children’s education but don’t always have the opportunity and knowledge of how to do so. I became inspired and committed to find ways to educate, engage, and empower families from low income communities and families of color to RISE as change agents for educational equity.
After completing the program, I joined the staff at Teach For America - Los Angeles as a Manager of Teacher Leadership Development. Having the opportunity to coach and develop teachers from Kindergarten through Middle School was incredible. I gained valuable management skills and further refined my vision for the type of education leader I wanted to be. I saw again the classrooms of my teachers, how family engagement is vital to student success across all grade levels. I worked with my teachers to pilot family engagement workshops and events for their students and families. Some of the workshops we now do at RISE! It was while working at Teach For America that I was able to define and refine our theory of change, mission, vision, and model.
I also had the opportunity to serve on Teach For America’s national Latino Advisory Council which helped me to connect and network with Latinos from across the country. Many of these wonderful individuals now serve on RISE’s Board of Directors and Advisory Council.
Through attending the Teach For America Latino Summits I had the opportunity to speak at the 25th Anniversary Summit in D.C. which built considerable support for RISE. In addition, having the support and mentorship from Wendy Kopp has also been transformational for me. Through the Teach For All network I’ve also been able to speak at an international conference in Santiago, where I had the opportunity to meet and learn from incredible education leaders from across the globe.
RISE also won the Teach For America Social Innovation Award in 2014. The Award provided us with the seed funding we needed to get RISE going, along with many other connections and opportunities that helped us to be where we are today. Teach For America and Teach For All have provided RISE with so many incredible opportunities during our journey.
What’s next for RISE is to continue to build out and refine our model to ensure that the families we work with are educated, engaged and empowered to become the appointed and elected leaders, reflective of the community they serve, to create the policies that meet the needs and demands of students so we ultimately close the achievement and opportunity gap.
We also plan to further develop our Youth Leadership programming to have a truly holistic family engagement model that not only focuses on the adults in the family but also the students. We often think about how powerful it will be when parents and students are advocating together in and out of school for the excellent education they deserve.
We are also taking the time to think about how we can best share what we’ve learned in a way that is practical and actionable for others so there can be strong national movement for educational equity led my low-income families and families of color.