Inside Education Forward DC: Celeste Huizar

Celeste Huizar was an intern with the Education Forward DC team from December 2017 to May 2018. Celeste graduated in May 2017 from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in English and a minor in Education. This fall, Celeste began her teaching career in Richmond, CA, joining the 2018-19 Teach For America – Bay Area cohort. She shared some reflections with us before she left.

I was born and raised in Boyle Heights, a low-income, predominantly Latino community in East Los Angeles, California. Boyle Heights is a community whose vibrant culture is matched with a rich history of resistance and resilience. Like many neighborhoods in DC, Boyle Heights has experienced and endured the repercussions of many systems of oppression, including, racism, redlining, freeway interchange, gentrification, educational inequity, and labor exploitation. As a resident of Boyle Heights, as the daughter of a single-mother, and as a low-income student, I did not have to travel far to witness or understand the implications of these systems; my family, my classmates, and my neighbors experience(d) and live(d) them daily.

They were particularly magnified and reinforced for me in the underserved schools I attended, where the majority, if not all students, identified as Latino/a and qualified for free or reduced price lunch. It was in school where I truly felt the implications of these systems and the implications of my identity as a first-generation, low-income Latina. Low academic performance, low standardized test scores, low graduation rates, and even lower college acceptances defined the schools I attended. So much so that it was (is) more surprising to see a student from my community go to and graduate from college than it was (is) to see them ‘fail’ and/or dropout.

This reality, along with the undeniable, impactful role that teachers of color played in my educational journey, are what inform and connect me deeply to the work that I want to do and the people who I want to serve.  While the schools I attended did not resemble schools in affluent communities, they did resemble the cultural history and representation of our student body; a determining factor in my educational outcomes. It was inspiring and motivating for me to witness people who looked like me in positions of leadership; it was clear to me that while educational disparities plagued my schools, my teachers were dedicated to uplifting the community’s history, prioritizing the needs of families, celebrating the cultural identities of students, and advocating for better opportunities and better outcomes for students.

I attribute my educational accomplishments and my motivation to join the teacher workforce to the teachers of color I had. Their leadership and their commitment to help me thrive despite the inequitable, but normalized conditions that I was expected to grow up and learn in, set me on the path that I am on now and informed my work with Education Forward DC.

Those of us in the education sector often reference our vision to provide a high-quality and equitable education to every student, but how often do we ask if our organizations and schools include and represent the diverse experiences and diverse needs of each of our students?

In the six months that I have been with the team at Education Forward DC, I have had the opportunity to analyze current investment opportunities and potential levers the Human Capital team can leverage to help diversify the teacher profession. In helping schools find, attract, train, and retain teachers and leaders, we have an opportunity to ensure teachers and leaders are informed and equipped to effectively serve their schools and communities.

As a first-generation, low-income Latina college graduate and professional, I consider it my responsibility to advocate for the representation of the needs, the experiences, the dreams, the sacrifices, and the resilience of my community, and communities like mine, in conversations determining our outcomes.

My educational trajectory and my work at Ed Forward DC have solidified and reinforced three things for me:

1. My voice, as a member of the communities we want to serve, is critical to addressing the challenges and solving the issues that impact us directly,

2. Those in the education sector, in their pursuit of better outcomes for students, have a responsibility to ensure that our communities have access to the rooms where these conversations are taking place, and

3. As an incoming Teach For America teacher, I have the unique opportunity to encourage our students and communities to be actively engaged in their educational and non-educational outcomes.

While this work is not easy, linear, or temporary, it requires our attention, our collaboration, and our commitment across the nation. In the short time that I have lived in DC and worked with Ed Forward DC, I have learned that the inequities that plague schools in Boyle Heights are not unique; they are also present in schools across DC’s wards, the California community I will soon be teaching in, and across the entire nation.

The complexity of these issues and the lack of truly significant change, despite decades of education reform, are indicators that we have work to do — disruptive and radical work that deviates from the status quo and is intentional about producing sustainable outcomes for students.