One School’s Story: a passionate response to educational inequity and a new beginning with the IB Middle Years Programme
By Marcos Aguilar, Tlayecantzi, executive director of Semillas Community Schools
Los Angeles, California, USA
Enough. It’s time to stop letting bureaucrats stomp out parent and student led initiatives in one of the most under-served neighborhoods in Los Angeles. It’s time to start our own school; a community-based school that teaches the culture, languages and worldviews of the families it serves as it prepares its students for the 21st century through the IB Middle Years Programme.
Altruistic or not, this logic fuelled a passion to build a response to the injustices my wife and I witnessed on a daily basis as public school teachers in the urban center of Los Angeles, California, USA. The idea took off like a wildfire in East Los Angeles, and has metamorphosed into Semillas Community Schools (‘Semillas’), a Mexican Indigenous, non-governmental, community-based, educational organization whose mission is to promote academic excellence rooted in the cultural and intellectual heritage of Indigenous Peoples and the advancement of social justice.
Our call to action to build a community-based school first materialized as Academia Semillas del Pueblo, an independent charter elementary school authorized by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in 2001. We started teaching with just eight teachers in a park gymnasium. Our work has now grown into three community-based institutions that offer a K-12 continuum in partnership with Academia’s sister school, Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory High School of North America.
Eight years after we began this journey, Anahuacalmecac is now the first and only public IB World School in the city of Los Angeles. Academia is not far behind, as the first public school to become a candidate for IB authorization to offer the Primary Years Programme.
Semillas has now become a social safety net for children at risk of disenfranchisement and social marginalization. Over 90% of Semillas students live in poverty. The majority of Semillas students reside in communities with the highest gang violence rates in Los Angeles, making prison an all too common prospect. Nearly 100% of the over four hundred Semillas students are Indigenous children of Mexican origin whose parents have migrated to Los Angeles in the hopes of finding a better future. Public schools our students would otherwise attend have alarming dropout rates of over 60%. Of those that are fortunate to graduate, less than 5% attend four-year universities. We believe that community-based education can reverse such marginalization so ingrained into the city’s reality.
Far from becoming just another school, Anahuacalmecac is setting an international standard of education for Los Angeles with the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) where students strive to become internationally-minded, culturally-sensitive community members. We aim to meet the rigor of internationally-recognized rights of children and Indigenous Peoples through cultural relevance and parental empowerment. Semillas schools, with the Middle Years, and soon the Primary Years Programme, is decisively paving the way for university success on the international stage for students in our communities.
Our vision and practice as a school community are founded upon the legacy of Indigenous Mexican education. Ancestral Mexican schooling ethos embodied social ideals and appreciations intended to develop the child as a complete person and as a civically responsible member of a human collective. Indigenous Mexican schools organized pedagogy, curriculum, administrators, teachers, and sites as a part of collectivist societies that instilled individual autonomy in children. The indigenous heart of our vision is a repossession of an identity denied to our children in standard schools. Los Angeles is the city with the highest population of Indigenous Peoples in the entire continental United States. As such, Los Angeles continues to be a part of indigenous cultural networks and among its diverse children are Indigenous ones who will be part of the next century. Thus at Semillas, the Indigenous is addressed positively and consciously.
Our students are the children of real families in real communities that face real challenges they share as Indigenous Peoples, as workers and ultimately, as human beings. Our way of promoting community regeneration through education, aims to address these societal needs by preparing our students to succeed in life as they lead our communities to succeed in meeting common human needs. Hence, our practice as a school community is much more than a model; it is an organic system through which a community consciously and purposefully prepares its next generation of leadership. As Indigenous Peoples this social practice, this most basic human need has been abrogated for centuries. Semillas is yet one more effort to right the past wrongs committed against Indigenous children everywhere in America; North and South. Far from being enough, Semillas is yet another new beginning.