By Anna Lenihan
Before taking on the role of Community School Coordinator, Reyna Guzman worked as an advocate for detained youth who had recently arrived to the country. She fought to ensure that the youth knew their rights and found them legal representation. However, she noticed that the youth she advocated for continued to struggle after being released, due to a lack of resources. This led her to Public Service Community School, a high school in South Los Angeles, where she has spent the last year as a Community School Coordinator, working to provide resources and empower her students. Public Service Community School, a Title I school with a majority Latino population, is similar to the school that Guzman herself attended as a high schooler, and Guzman says that her own experience shaped her and gave her insight into the lives of her students.
As a Community School Coordinator, Guzman focuses heavily on engaging parents and students in the decision-making processes of the school. “It is important to recognize that people have agency,” she explains. With that in mind, she spends a lot of time strategizing how to increase parental participation. She makes phone calls home, invites parents to have coffee with the school principal, and makes sure to always have food at every event. Guzman places a lot of emphasis on making the school a comfortable place for parents and students. “First we build community, then we start asking questions.”
Today, Public Service Community School is home to Padres Activos, a group of parents who participate in socio-emotional and parenting classes. Guzman also trains a group of parents to sit in on classroom instruction, take notes, and then give recommendations to the school’s instructional leadership team. Guzman noted that the role of a Community School Coordinator is to see the potential of other people, and that it is most important to root for and collaborate with others. “If the teachers, staff, and students aren’t invested, nothing will be successful,” she says.
Because Guzman works with high school students, she prioritizes college and career readiness. This past school year, Guzman facilitated a career day that brought over 50 organizations into the school to discuss employment opportunities. The career day was followed by mock interviews and lessons about professional dress code. Despite looking towards the future, Guzman explained that working with high school students also means trying to make up for things that her students did not receive earlier in their childhoods. Guzman, in partnership with the school district, was able to offer her students free eye screenings and provide glasses to students who needed them. She also developed a partnership with a food finder service to ensure that her students and their families have access to fresh produce and canned goods.
As the 2019-2020 school year approaches, Guzman is spending the summer reflecting on how she can make the coming year as successful as possible. She is reading up on parent engagement and meeting with school administrators and teachers to plan new programming. She reminds everyone that when students, parents, and community members are empowered, they should be the ones driving solutions. The job of a Community School Coordinator is to lift up the voices of the community as much as possible.