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Centering Family Voice, Trusting the Community, and Building Latine Pride: Keys to Helping Children Learn

February 14, 2022

Roxana Linares, executive director of Centro Tyrone Guzman, the largest and oldest multi-service Latine organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, contributed to this blog on the center’s insistence on embracing family and community voice.

Roxana Linares

Roxana Linares holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Policy and Administration, with a focus on Comparative and International Education, from the University of Minnesota. Before moving to Minnesota, Roxana taught Science at the International School of Tintaya in Peru, and later served as assistant director for the school. Roxana first joined Centro Tyrone Guzman in 2001 as a CURA intern, later served as director of the Education Department, and was named executive director in January 2009. Over the past 12 years in the executive director role, Roxana has worked in partnership with staff, participants, and community partners to strengthen the organization’s commitment to intergenerational, Montessori-influenced programming for the Latine community. Under Roxana’s leadership, Centro Tyrone Guzman has been recognized nationally for its innovative, culturally responsive effort to address disparities across the lifespan – from being named a “Bright Spot in Hispanic Education” for its success in preparing low-income Latine children for kindergarten, to receiving an “Innovations in Alzheimer’s Caregiving” award for the development of creative new resources to support Alzheimer’s awareness and care in the Latine community.

Centro Tyrone Guzman, the largest and oldest multi-service Latine organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is effective because it depends on the trust of and input from the families and community it serves. It has been recognized by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (description at bottom of page) as a bright spot for early learning and cited for, among other factors, its 100 percent school readiness rate for students in its Siembra (to plant, to grow)  preschool program.

Feedback from Parents is Key

Roxana Linares, executive director of the center, spoke about the central role parents play in decision making. For example, two years ago, parents helped design the infant/toddler home visiting program, called Mi Pequeño Mundo (My Little World). Linares said:

We didn’t just assume we knew what parents wanted. We formed an advisory council. We had three focus groups. We had individual interviews with the dads because we wanted to know how they perceived their role as part of this family with this growing child. We do lot of work reaching out before we even start creating or implementing a new initiative. Then with all that outreach, parents and families can start learning.

Constant feedback also informs the Siembra program. Parents attend regular focus groups with an external facilitator, and parent/teacher conferences also serve as a check-in for the whole family. Linares also noted the role that these focus groups and check-ins play in ensuring other families’ needs are being met: “If they have an elder or youth at home, we have programming for them. Are they okay with housing, rent? We can provide connections through our partners. We try to look at what is stressing families and provide services.”

A History of Trust

The emphasis the center places on receiving guidance from the community was established in the mid-1990s by the center’s namesake, the late Tyrone Guzman. Guzman moved the center to its current location in South Minneapolis and began responding to immigrants from Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and other Latin American countries, providing health care, social services, early education, and youth and senior programs. For the home visiting program, Colombian and Ecuadorian staff were hired as conectoras, trusted community members trained to proactively connect families to early childhood development resources that are culturally relevant and affirming. Linares ensures that this approach is still carried on today, as she believes it is important to provide for the community exactly what it says it needs, to “trust that the community has the answers and the guidance. If we want to work together, that is what creates an environment in which we are actually providing to them what is needed and not what we think is needed.”

The Importance of Instilling Pride

In 2011, the Siembra preschool program adopted the Montessori method but tailored it to best serve diverse, dual language families. Not only do all staff receive training from the Montessori Center of Minnesota, but all are bilingual and bicultural. Furthermore, standing by its commitment to relevance and affirmation, the center intentionally hires staff from the same countries of origin as the families/community, as it works to instill pride in children about their language and culture. Linares noted:

It is so hurting and horrible that some populations are told that they should not be here, they do not belong, and who they are is wrong. We want to break that by surrounding kids with pride in their culture, Spanish language, Latine role models, to say who their parents are is great and amazing. This helps the kids learn.

Bright Spots in Hispanic Education Fulfilling America’s Future
White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

In commemoration of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics Initiative’s (Initiative) 25th anniversary, the Initiative made a national call for nominations for Bright Spots in Hispanic Education with the goal of highlighting the ongoing efforts that are taking place across the country, at the local, state and federal levels, to support Latino educational attainment and excellence. Bright Spots are programs, models, organizations, or initiatives that are helping close the achievement gap.

By highlighting and uplifting the work of these Bright Spots, the Initiative seeks to spur innovation and encourage collaboration between them and stakeholders focused on similar issues in sharing data-driven approaches, promising practices, peer advice and effective partnerships, resulting in increased support for the educational attainment of the Hispanic community.

Statistics show that low-income children who speak Spanish in the home are the least likely to be ready for kindergarten in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Back in 2011, Centro Tyrone Guzman had already been tackling this problem for 13 years, beginning with the opening of Siembra Preschool in 1998. Although Siembra students were learning and growing, educational disparities still seemed to exist between the children and their peers. Upon realizing the persistent achievement gap, Centro Tyrone Guzman’s Board, staff, and parent volunteers overhauled the preschool program to follow the Montessori Method, supported by a unique partnership with the Montessori Center of Minnesota. Each year since the transition to the Montessori Method in 2012, 100 percent of Siembra students have been assessed as ready for kindergarten at the appropriate time. The success of Siembra students illustrates the effectiveness of the innovative model; it also demonstrates that income, ethnicity, and language do not need to be predictors of educational disparities.

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