LEC, RevEd support Latinx community in education

RevEd and LEC will soon share a space at 2201 Lexington Avenue with Show Me KC Schools. Photo by Abby Hoover

Latinx education professionals are working hard to change the education outcomes of Latinx students in Kansas City by increasing and retaining the number of quality Latinx education professionals, starting right here at home in the Historic Northeast.

Edgar Palacios founded Latinx Education Collaborative (LEC) and its 501(c)(4) affiliate Revolución Educativa (RevED), an advocacy organization. RevED is the tenant of 2201 Lexington Ave., along with Show Me KC Schools, and hosts LEC.

Edgar Palacios, founder of Latinx Education Collaborative and RevEd.

“RevED was created to help amplify the voices of Latinos around issues in education,” Palacios said. “We’re really concerned about helping improve the educational outcomes of Latino students… It’s really about making sure that our students have a voice in our conversations, that they’re not overlooked or not a part of these conversations around educational equity and whatnot.”

The organization serves Latino students, parents and educators.

“Part of the reason that we chose Northeast is because Northeast is a thriving, diverse community with a growing Latino population,” Palacios said. “We want to make sure that we’re in the heart of the community, and we have some roots in the ground, as well.”

Susana Elizarraraz, Vice President of Educator Supports for LEC, grew up in Northeast Kansas City and taught at Gladstone Elementary for six years.

“Actually it’s a reason why I taught in the neighborhood,” Elizarraraz said. “I grew up in the neighborhood, pretty much born and raised in Northeast, so my commitment was to come back and teach in my neighborhood, knowing that a lot of my students’ experiences aligned with my life experiences, as well.”

In what Elizarraraz describes as a very diverse school and very diverse neighborhood, she had a lot of bilingual, multilingual, and in some cases trilingual, students. 

“And a lot of immigrant and refugee students, so my experience, my life experience – personal life experience – aligning with a lot of those experiences, lent to my classroom teaching, I think, and the relationships that I built with the students that I taught,” Elizarraraz said.

When she was a student in Historic Northeast, it was pretty typical that at least one faculty member was Latinx, or at least Spanish-English bilingual. But as she progressed through school, she realized the teaching staff didn’t reflect the student body.

“I went to James Elementary, and then I went to Scarritt, which is now closed, and then Northeast Middle School,” Elizarraraz said. “We always had a Spanish speaking staff member, whether that be a front staff, office staff or on the custodial team, but I did not have a Latinx educator until I went to high school, and I went to a small private high school.”

Elizarraraz provided that representation for Northeast students, and is now helping to foster a community and provide resources to other Latinx teachers through RevEd and LEC.

“While I was teaching, it was just still painfully obvious that we didn’t have enough Latinx educators,” Elizarraraz said. “I mean, I became the resident Latina teacher, and that you could tell really mattered for the parents of my students, particularly my non-English speaking parents, parents who spoke only Spanish, in particular.” 

Those parents gravitated to her for obvious reasons. They discuss regularly within their organizations about improving the retention rates of Latinx teachers.

“It’s difficult for Latino teachers, in this case, talking about bilingual Latino teachers to kind of have the added responsibility of translating,” Elizarraraz said. “We’re very happy to do it because it’s why we do the work. It’s just no denying that it’s this added workload.”

It means a lot to her to be doing this work now, hoping to ease the burden of what made her job so difficult from other teachers while they continue trying to support their Latinx parents and students.

“My students who were undocumented, and them knowing they could trust me with those conversations, parents who were undocumented, knowing that was part of my family story, as well,” Elizarraraz said. “It was an isolating experience to be the only teacher that could relate to the students in that way. To now do the work where trying to build a community around teachers who are having very similar experiences, and bringing them together in order to kind of put a dent in that isolation. It means a lot to people.”

This is not the vision Palacios had for LEC and RevEd, but in the best ways possible.

“I think my vision has always been to take the next step in improving conditions for our community, specifically, the Latinx community,” Palacios said. “What I think is really fun and interesting, and kind of beautiful, is we’re in a place, in a moment of growth, where we can choose and have the ability to choose a location for us to build a home.”

RevEd and LEC have been virtual organizations since they launched in -.

“For us, it’s nice to finally kind of have a home and to dream of what we could be,” Palacios said. “I think for some of the members of my team, they’re super excited to be a community hub for parents and for, potentially, students, for teachers.”

Susana dreams of one day creating a teachers’ lounge in the space where a community of teachers within Kansas City could come in, take some time to relax, and to learn and to grow together.

“The Northeast is my home, and the Northeast is what I’m committed to. I’m also just grateful that there was a space where it was close enough to home that I could technically walk from where I live to the space and be a part of that,” said Palacios, a resident of Independence Plaza. “It also feels good to be able to contribute in that way. I’m hopeful that we get to continue that and I’m hopeful that space becomes a place that really embodies our organizational values and it really feels like a home to the people that we serve.”

As a resident of Historic Northeast, he is aware of how vacant buildings have plagued the neighborhoods and business community. RevEd and LEC are moving into a recently renovated storefront space on Lexington Avenue that was vacant and dilapidated not so long ago for almost two decades. With PH Coffee filling the space across the street in 2019, and Show Me KC Schools moving in next door – with residential units above – the 2200 block of Lexington Avenue is undergoing a transformation.

“There’s so many things to love about the Northeast, you know, I’m not naive to understand that we have some serious issues within our community,” Palacios said. “But I think the one thing that I’ve been most excited about and thrilled about is the passion of our neighbors in trying to get it right.”

In his own neighborhood, he’s been enthused by the commitment of community leaders like Laura Remy and Tom Ribera.

“We got folks like Cynthia Herrington and Megan Morgan, and folks that I’ve met throughout the neighborhood, as well,” Palacios said. “I love that we have a chamber of commerce here locally. I love that we have a couple of schools.”

Palacios serves on the board of Scuola Vita Nuova. Settling down in Historic Northeast only a year and a half ago, he and his family have found home in the tight-knit community.

“I love the fact that I can go across the street to San Antonio and go get my tortillas there, go get my tacos there – or whatever type of meal – and I love that I can go to El Paso Del Norte and meet community leaders there and just bring them into the space. I love that I can go to Elvira’s and Eleos. I can go to all these places right there within less than a mile from my home.”

For all the challenges that Northeast does have, Palacios wants to make sure that people know there are a lot of positive things happening because of the dedication of the community.

“We have some really invested leaders, like Manny Abarca, who are advocating for the betterment of this space, being able to contribute in a meaningful way,” Palacios said.

He’s excited for what’s possible, not only for his organizations, not only for Latinx students, but for the whole Northeast and its residents.

“It’s also our commitment to being in the community, to really understanding our neighbors,” Palacios said. “I know with Show Me KC Schools that’s going to be a really fun partnership to have and to build out and to see how we can inform each other’s practices and their work.”

He wants to create space for other communities, too.

“We have immigrants and folks who are at the beginning of their American dream, whatever it means to them, and we have all these other awesome and cool experiences they’re bringing to the table that we should acknowledge and embrace,” Palacios said. “Northeast is walking that balance of people who have been invested in this community for decades and are continuing to be a force in the space, and then there are new folks who are calling this home.”

He’s hoping that people see through the values of his organizations and as people that they’re prepared to build bridges between those two groups. LEC and RevEd are also looking to partner with organizations who have been working in the Northeast for a long time. Palacios wants the community’s input on how he can use his space, but he’s excited to use it as a gathering place to host necessary conversations and give support.

“We have a home, we’re going to convene in this space, but we’re also going to utilize it as a kind of a hub where we can introduce folks to other beautiful places in our community,” Palacios said.

“Having a space for Latinos to feel empowered, particularly Latino parents, I’m really excited for the work RevEd is doing,” Elizarraraz said. “There are a lot of new people to our neighborhood, but there are a lot of really great people who have been here a long time that maybe haven’t had the opportunity to engage in conversations about education, in conversations about the work that we’re doing.”

They’re hoping to be a safe place – rather, a brave space – for the Latinx community to come and have conversations about how to engage with the broader community, with the educational institutions, in Kansas City and beyond.

More information on Latinx Education Collaborative and RevEd can be found at latinxedco.org.

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