Yadira Lemus is a parent at Impact Public School. Her daughter Debbie, a first-grader, goes to Impact Puget Sound Elementary. Her son Ithiel, a kindergartener, goes to Impact Salish Sea Elementary. In an ordinary school year, these schools would be in different locations – Tukwila and South Seattle. However, before the pandemic, the two schools already planned to share the Puget Sound Elementary building in Tukwila. During the pandemic, both schools have been operating virtually, though the school is offering childcare on site to families who need it.
Yadira grew up in Fresno, CA where she was often pulled out of the classroom because she didn’t speak English. When she went to high school in Los Angeles, CA, she was placed into an English as a Second Language (ESL) group. She felt behind, discouraged, and disempowered in her learning. This treatment of English learners, which sadly is commonplace in our public education system, reinforces the narrative that native English speakers are inherently “smarter” than multilingual learners. Even when she received an A in her general education English class, Yadira recalls that her classmates questioned the legitimacy of her grade.
Yadira navigated the oppressive educational system on her own; her parents have little involvement in her education. While she demonstrated incredible resilience, this experience is still painful for her to recount. Yadira and her family immigrated here from Mexico, and neither spoke English or Spanish. They spoke a dialect called Mixteco, which is an indigenous language of Oaxaca. “Growing up, I never had their support in school, not because they didn’t love us, but because they had to work to support us. I never thought it was a possibility for us to do more.”
After successfully navigating the system on her own, and moving to Washington and starting work at Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Yadira saw the representation of successful people who looked like her. “I saw Hispanic doctors. I saw Hispanic medical assistants and nurses. And it made me think: We can become a part of this. It’s not just for white people or the rich. It’s something we can all do, and education plays a part in that.”
Today, as a parent, she wants to be the parent advocate for her kids that she herself lacked. This is her key motivation. “It is very important as a parent to be as involved as you possibly can in your child’s education. I don’t think it’s just the teacher’s or school’s responsibility to educate my kid. It starts at home. The teachers and I work together.” Yadira shares in every struggle and joyous moment of school with them. “I want my kids to know there’s no limit where they want to be,” she says with great conviction.
Yadira first learned about Impact Public Schools at a community event when Debbie was two years old. She didn’t know much about charter schools but was willing to take the risk of attending a charter school after learning her niece was bullied at their neighborhood school. She knew private school was not an option because they couldn’t afford to pay for any or all of her three children. She was willing to try anything that had a chance to fulfill her hopes and dreams for her kids “to become good citizens and help others in need.”
She was delighted when each of her children enrolled at Impact. She felt that everything the school did was well-planned and intentional, and that “we made the best decision to enroll Debbie and Ithiel there.” Her children are being nurtured and challenged to reach their full potential in an inclusive setting.
Yadira has stepped up as a parent and an advocate. She is a true “game changer.” She has served as the parent-teacher contact for Debbie’s class, volunteered endless hours to support teachers in the classroom, encouraged parents to attend events, helped build the school’s playground, and planned mentor dinner. She even helped organize a drive-thru graduation parade during the school building closure due to COVID-19, which brought much joy during isolating times.
When WA Charters organized the Parent Legislative Day in Olympia in early 2020, Yadira was amongst the first parents to volunteer. She courageously spoke with legislators about how public charters schools like Impact is making a difference in her child’s education and why her kids, like other public schools’ students, deserve to have equitable funding to public education. While she has been to Olympia with Sea Mar, this experience advocating for her child’s education was eye-opening and gave her agency to share her personal story.
Yadira believes that parents need to partner with teachers to help students thrive in school. “There is a parent group at the school called the Village Action Committee. I love that term because we are a village raising our kids.”
Yadira will continue to stay engaged with her children’s education and advocate for more inclusive and equitable school options for all kids. Her next goal at the school is to be point of contact for Spanish-speaking families, and help them feel empowered to be active in their children’s education.
Parent advocates like Yadira are our greatest hope when it comes to changing inequitable policies and creating inclusive, supportive school communities.
If you would like to be an advocate for educational equity or get involved in other ways, consider the following actions:
- Advocate for high-quality charter public school options
- Get involved with Impact Public Schools
- Donate online to Impact Public Schools or WA Charters
- Volunteer to help when students get back to in-person school