In honor of #GivingTuesday on November 29th, the Schott Foundation has reached out to some of our grantee partners to get the low-down on what they do, who they’re doing it for, and the challenges that they handle like rockstars every day.
The Schott Foundation has partnered with CEJ for several years, supporting their policy advocacy work with New York City parents around the Community Schools Initiative.
Today, we’re catching up with Natasha Capers, Coordinator.
WHO: NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ)
WHERE: New York City
WHAT: Education, parent and youth organizing
THEIR FICTIONAL CHARACTER OF CHOICE: Voltron
SF: Tell us about the organization – how did it get started, and why?
NC: The Coalition for Educational Justice is a citywide coalition of public school parents and community organizations in low-income communities of color who have come together to hold the NYC Department of Education accountable for providing an excellent and equitable education to all children – especially those constituencies that have historically been deprived of high-quality education. CEJ was founded in 2006, when parent organizers in various neighborhoods across the city realized that, in order to make real changes in their neighborhood schools, they needed to have the power to influence citywide education policy. Since then, CEJ has grown to be NYC’s largest parent-led organization and one of the country’s most effective in supporting and winning public school policies that advance equity and excellence. CEJ is run by parents, for parents, and we’ve won concrete policy changes by training and supporting hundreds of low-income parents of color to become leaders for their children, for their schools and for the city.
So what does CEJ do?
CEJ works to ensure a high-quality education for children throughout NYC, especially in low-income, immigrant communities and communities of color. We work to impact citywide education issues and policies that directly affect these communities. We believe that racial justice and education justice are inextricably linked, and that one cannot be achieved without the other.
What are your core activities?
CEJ is currently working to advance College Ready Community Schools, which are local schools that are the hub of their neighborhoods and strengthen the entire community by combining top-quality, culturally-responsive academics with on-site health and social services and deep engagement with families to ensure that children are physically, emotionally and socially prepared to learn. To achieve that, CEJ is working closely with the administration on the city’s Community Schools Initiative, which CEJ was influential in creating, as well as organizing community school parents to ensure high-quality implementation of the initiative.
CEJ’s second major campaign is around transformative parent engagement, which is a method of parent engagement that sees families as experts on their children and their community; develops families’ skills, knowledge and confidence as partners in academic achievement; engages parents in meaningful decision-making about their children’s education; and actively builds the skills of school staff to engage effectively with families. CEJ has been promoting several research-based models of parent engagement, which, due to CEJ’s work, are now being implemented in several dozen schools across the city. We’re also working to reform the city’s central family engagement unit to be more effective.
CEJ’s member organizations build strong neighborhood-based committees of parents who meet weekly or monthly to discuss issues they are facing in their local schools and work together to address them. Those local committees then come together through CEJ to impact the citywide policies that affect all of them collectively.
In order to fight and win successful policy campaigns, CEJ trains and supports parents in local member organizations and citywide to be leaders for education justice, through building their skills in community organizing, education policy, public speaking, meeting facilitation, advocacy with elected officials, event planning and much more.
What challenges do you face?
The challenges facing CEJ are mostly the challenges that face public education generally: the historical neglect of schools in low-income communities of color, and the poverty, racism and other oppressions that plague people’s lives and deprive them of the time and resources necessary to fight for their children’s education and schools.
Despite the desperate need for a greater coalition of groups doing education organizing, the inadequate funding of community organizing also makes it difficult for community-based organizations to take on this work.
What do your program participants care most about?
CEJ is led by and for public school parents in low-income communities of color, whose neighborhood schools have traditionally been deprived of the resources, expertise and political will necessary to provide a high-quality education to all children. CEJ parents care about a well-rounded, culturally-responsive college and career preparatory education for all children, but especially those who have been targeted by racism, poverty and xenophobia. They want their children to leave high school ready for success in higher education and careers, but also as whole, healthy people who are proud of their community and prepared to be leaders for social justice and a better world.
What’s the most fulfilling part of this work?
The most fulfilling part is the work we do around leadership development – watching leaders who would not speak up or think of themselves as leaders undertake a transformation where they are leading press conferences or running workshops and facilitating meetings with City Council members is beyond amazing. And to see parent leaders transition into staff roles at CEJ or the Department of Education has added a new level of development that has been incredible.
So – why Voltron?
Voltron was a 1980s cartoon, in which there are five robot lions that fight evil. While they are powerful on their own, they join together to become even more powerful by creating a giant robot called Voltron. CEJ is Voltron: all of our member groups come together from across the city to fight the fights that are too big to tackle individually, and together we can defeat evil educational policies and achieve educational justice.
Thank you, Natasha!
#GivingTuesday is a chance for all to support incredible work happening around the country. Don’t forget to keep CEJ in mind on November 29th. ALL DONATIONS WILL BE MATCHED BY 50% BY THE NORTH STAR FUND.