By Shirley Ruhe
Alexandria, VA – Rosa Landeros is the parent liaison at Mount Vernon Community School. Still, she says her real calling is to welcome families to the community and act as the cultural broker between the students, teachers, parents, and the community. Landeros has been in the school system since 1998 but at Mount Vernon since 2000. She acts as the link between school and home and explains she has been very lucky to work with administrators who believe in her work at Mount Vernon.
Out of 900 students at Mount Vernon, 50 percent come from low-income families. Landeros’s role is building relationships between the school and families. She works to create a network of people who are invested in seeing students succeed, including parents, teachers, other students, and the larger school community. If a student’s needs are not being met, Landeros connects the students and their families to the supports and services necessary for academic and social success. She feels fortunate to have great support from the community for their many projects.
For example, at the beginning of the year for the last six years, she has worked with the First Assembly of God Church to provide backpacks full of supplies, this year for 160 students. The church contacts the school in the spring before the next school year to find out the needs of the children so they can order supplies. “The church brings the backpacks here. Families contact me to request what they need. It is a wonderful cooperative effort.”
She is also grateful to a local chain store that has a fundraiser every year to provide shoes (100 pairs last year) for those who request them at Mount Vernon. Teachers and the school nurse recommend children who need shoes and provide the sizes. Landeros says it is a team effort.
The community also donates blue pants or skirts and red polos for school uniforms. The school maintains a closet where parents volunteer to organize the clothes. Landeros says this way they get to know each other. She credits the school PTA with working hard to raise funds that go directly to the students at Mount Vernon. She says it is not a typical “bake and sell” PTA. “They work so hard to give opportunities to all of the students at Mount Vernon.”
Landeros organizes Blessings in a Backpack for weekends, which sends 100 less-privileged children home with non-perishable food for Saturday and Sunday. They have provided this vital help to students for five years. She says the school is blessed to have money donated to the PTA for the supplies, three people in charge of the program who order and pick up the food, volunteers to pack up the bags, and those who drive the food to the school. It takes a lot of teamwork to make it happen.
But Landeros believes the common tie underlying all of these efforts is “to help us understand each other.” She points out that we are an example to our children. Her proudest effort is the Neighbors to Friends program that she first envisioned as a project in her Parent Leadership Training Institute class in 2008.
The underlying idea is integration within the community, to provide a space where English and Spanish-speaking parents can learn each other’s language and culture. This is now happening in regular Tuesday meetings, bringing teachers, parents, and staff members together in an informal setting where they can learn about each other.
“The vision I had in 2008 is blooming. It took a long time for the dream to become a reality,” she says. “It takes a long time to build trust.”
Landeros says her own experience has helped her do the job she does today. She was a social worker who came from Mexico with her husband, Agustin, and her two small children, Saray and Ignacio. They spoke no English. Life was hard. But Landeros remembers all she had to do to make life work, and she always kept in mind that she wanted her children to get an education. Now Saray, 34, is a forensic scientist, and Ignacio, 31, is a mechanical engineer.
Landeros says that she has put together her role as mother, immigrant, and social worker to become the cultural broker. She says when people share their culture, they have more in common than differences. Landeros encourages having children share their holidays, such as the Mexican Día de Los Niños in April, a celebration of childhood with parades and presents. “And we love to dance.”
Landeros knows a lot of people and they all believe in what she does. They give her the opportunity and freedom to embrace everybody, build relationships, and see everybody’s talents. She had many mentors to help navigate the new world when she came to the United States. “When you have that, it is powerful,” she says. Now she does that for others.