Header image: Graduates of the first cohort of Paridad, a leadership development program for parents in the Adams 14 school district.
In early 2023, Together Colorado leaders at Our Lady Mother of the Church (OLMC) in Commerce City were awarded decision-making influence over $100,000 of their school district’s budget, specifically to bring in new parent and community partnership programs of their choosing. This win came after a years-long organizing battle led by parents to demand more transparency and evidence-based family partnership practices in the struggling Adams 14 School District.
The Social Justice Ministry at OLMC formed in 2018 with the support of Together Colorado and has been organizing tirelessly ever since. After conducting a listening campaign in which they spoke with over 120 members of their community, they learned that the poor quality of education in the Adams 14 School District was the top concern for the majority of their neighbors and fellow parishioners. The district, which serves more than 80% Hispanic/Latino families, had been failing for more than a decade and was undergoing a process of state intervention.
Over the past five years, the group – made up almost entirely of parent leaders, most of whom are immigrants and speak primarily Spanish – has made demands of not only the school district, but the district’s external managers and even the Colorado State Board of Education. The Social Justice Ministry has held three community actions, in 2019, 2021, and 2022, each attended by 150-200 residents, in which they applied public pressure to district and state leadership to secure commitments regarding quality bilingual education, evidence-based best practices, and above all, genuine partnership with families and communities. When the group was met with resistance or hollow “yes’s” followed by inaction, they took their campaign to the press and continued demanding meetings with district and state leaders. In recent years, the group’s efforts have been strengthened through close collaboration with the Colorado Education Association and School District 14 Classroom Teachers’ Association, especially leading up to their 2022 action targeting the State Board. Monsignor Jorge de los Santos, the pastor at Our Lady Mother of the Church, has also been instrumental in rallying the community and motivating his parishioners to get involved in the fight.
OLMC leaders rally the crowd at their third action in April of 2022 targeting the State Board of Education.
In 2021, after meeting with numerous experts and researching best practices in other districts, the group brought forward two evidence-based capacity-building programs for parents that exemplify the quality of programming they expect in their own district. “We envision an Adams 14 that is an example of equity and a recognition of the potential and strengths of students at the local, state and national levels,” commented group leader Rafael Bautista. “Quality family partnership not only benefits students, but parents, teachers, and the whole community.”
The group persisted, and now, two years later, they have finally been heard. Through their collaboration and constant advocacy with Adams 14’s new superintendent, Karla Loría – who so far has been more willing to work with the group as partners – our leaders were awarded decision-making influence over $100,000 of the district budget to implement family partnership programs of their choice. They leapt into action and immediately brought in Paridad, a capacity-building program for Latinx parents modeled after a program in the Boulder Valley School District, and a GED program for parents. As of May, 2023, Paridad has completed a pilot 6-week course with 25 parents, and the GED program has completed a pilot 24-session cohort with 20 parents. Both programs were at capacity and had long waitlists, and were extremely well received by parents.
“Together, we can make changes,” commented Elizabeth Rivas, another group leader. “Working directly with the Paridad program allows more parents to learn about their rights and responsibilities within educational establishments, and to understand that we are key to the success of our children.”
After proving the potential of both programs, Together Colorado leaders hope they will become a permanent fixture in the district’s budget, and also hope to bring in a third program, Abriendo Puertas, offered by partner organization Cultivando. Ultimately, the Ministry intends to push for Paridad to become part of a leadership pipeline for parents to form an advisory council to the school board and have a real role in district decision-making.
The work of the OLMC Social Justice Ministry is testament to the power of faith-based organizing grounded in love and perseverance, and these leaders are proof that a small group of committed citizens can, in fact, achieve big changes.
Adams 14 parents participating in the first cohort of Paridad, Spring 2023.
Adams 14 parents participating in the pilot cohort of the adult GED program. Classes were full with a waitlist!
Flyers for the pilot cohorts of the Adams 14 parent GED program and Paridad, brought about in partnership between Together Colorado’s leaders at Our Lady Mother of the Church and the Adams 14 District.