Cecilia Paz Aguilar
Class of 2016 Ryan Fellow / Principal in Residence, IDEA Public Schools
Schools are a microcosm of society; reflections of the communities they serve. Schools do more than house classrooms, they hold space for past and future dreams of students and families. Learning more about the rich history and undeniable assets within and surrounding our schools is exactly what educators must commit to in order to create a powerful society within the walls of a school building. We have the amazing opportunity to create a world where every student wants to live in and show up to daily – a world where mutual respect and empathy are the norm.
Schools are not stand alone agencies that operate in isolation; even if they try. Creating a strong instructional culture is key; yet so is activating the strengths of students and families.
Envision boosting the academic growth, emotional health, and intellectual development of our students. In a high-expectations, high-support learning environment, students will become enlightened leaders committed to making it to and through college.
Why is committing to a culturally responsive environment so necessary? Within each school – each microcosm of society – a sole focus on academics will not prepare students to become self-loving, self-aware, and self-sufficient citizens. Creating a utopian society within the walls of a school means redefining the school experience for historically underserved students – a mini-movement, if you will. It’s an uprising against a reality that just should not be.
This reality often looks like low expectations and low support for low-income students of color. The statistics show us where we stand in our current reality:
- Low-income students are seven times more likely to drop out of school than those from higher income families
- Low-income students account for only 10% of all bachelor’s degrees earned
To address this reality, principals need to lead with purpose and passion while examining and intentionally altering our approach to meet the needs of ALL of our students.
Envision boosting the academic growth, emotional health, and intellectual development of our students. In a high-expectations, high-support (read: rigor+real love) learning environment, students will become enlightened leaders committed to making it to and through college.
A key to this is connecting the microcosm of education to the lived experiences of students; their aspirations and strengths. By focusing on dual aims of academic growth and critical thinking, students will become knowledgeable, aware, and empowered to excel academically. It’s important for young people to learn how to articulate their growth as a student and as an evolving person.
Who can change this reality? I have learned that no one leader can do it all. It takes a team of committed leaders to create dramatic change in the lives of students, and by extension, the community. I believe that it takes a village to raise a school, and that students deserve to be surrounded by high expectations coupled with high support for people who believe in their innate potential.
I am in this work because I believe in generational change. I would not be here today without an education – with a graduate degree and a career, with the opportunity to travel and meet so many amazing people, with the financial freedom to provide for family and loved ones. I want that for young people in schools who are often seen, not heard / liked, not loved / taught, not shaped.