My name is Tyler Alabanza-Behard. After graduating from the University of Oxford in 2015, I joined Teach For America and the KIPP Houston Team & Family. I now teach 10th and 11th grade English at KIPP Houston High School, and in my spare time I enjoy working out, reading books, and watching sports.
Regardless of whether you are a student or a teacher, the summer vacation provides a much-welcomed space for self-reflection and growth. Though we are far-removed from the bustling hallways and busy classrooms, it is during the summer that the act of learning continues to take precedence for KIPPsters, big and little. Intrigued by the intricacies of the American education system and staunch in my passion for serving students and families, I accepted a summer fellowship position at the District of Columbia’s Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education.
An ‘ombudsman’ is an appointed government official whose job it is to investigate complaints and then mediate in pursuit of a just resolution. With regard to public education, our Office helps parents advocate for their children, and in turn, repair or strengthen their ties to the school community. As a KIPP teacher, I know firsthand that parental involvement unlocks student achievement, but now, having worked as a fellow in government, I believe that the parental voice should be heard not just within school walls, but also throughout legislative halls.
Helping families understand education policy – whether it is in relation to special education, disciplinary issues, or enrollment - has proved the most gratifying aspect of my job. The language of policy can appear intimidatingly dense, but through multiple conversations, even the most complicated of issues become clear and accessible for families of all backgrounds. Like the special joy that pulses when a teacher helps a student with a difficult concept, coaching parents towards a better knowledge of their rights is a source of tremendous reward.
But even as I’ve helped parents and schools find equitable resolutions, I have still witnessed products of an unjust system. Day after day, families from across D.C. call with the same issues in mind: they are struggling to find high-quality yet local schools; they are searching for the supports and resources that are essential to student success. The stories told by these families are undoubtedly harrowing, but as an English teacher, I believe that our narratives are a source of power and a force for change. As such, parent voices must be heard by those in our country who hold the most influence.
These problems are not unique to our nation’s capital. They affect us at home in Houston. I refuse to believe that we, as teachers, as parents, as students, are powerless in the face of educational inequity; but in a world that is both busy and urgent, it becomes a question of what can we do and how do we do it?
As parents in D.C raise their voices for children, we in Houston also have the opportunity to join the dialogue for change. This year, KIPP will mobilize families across Houston to share their stories and engage with elected officials and community leaders. Parental involvement is too crucial to stop at the school. In the words of the poet James Weldon Johnson let’s ‘’lift every voice and sing’’ - knowing as we do that ALL of Houston’s children deserve excellent educational opportunities.
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