Seeking Diversity in the Classroom

Every year Latinos throughout the nation gather in Washington D.C. to attend events in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), to celebrate our presence, heritage, culture, and contributions to the United States. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a premier Hispanic non-profit and non-partisan 501(c) (3) leadership development organization, kicked off the prominent month with its 34th Annual Public Policy Conference with this year’s theme as “Developing the Next Generation of Latino Leaders” on Sunday, September 11th with events following through Wednesday, September 14th.

The National Education Association (NEA) had a major presence throughout the CHCI events this year by being the lead sponsor of the Education Luncheon, where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was invited. The NEA is the largest professional organization and largest labor union in the United States. They represent public school teachers, and other support personnel, faculty and staffers. The NEA believes every student in America, regardless of family income or place of residence, deserves a quality education. In pursuing its mission, the NEA has determined that they will focus their energy and resources of their 3.2 million members on improving the quality of teaching, increasing student achievement, making schools safer, and a better place to learn.

NEA proudly showed their commitment to CHCI, the CHC, and the growing importance of the Hispanic community to our national interests. On the education panel entitled, “Creating a Diverse and High Quality Teaching Workforce for the 21st Century,” Vice President of the NEA Lily Eskelsen said, “What you might not know is what the NEA is doing on several fronts, first we believe that you do have to be deliberately diverse, it doesn’t just happen; second, once you get those teachers you have to have the most constant, relevant, necessary professional development possible, you need it on the undergraduate level but you also need to be able to tell teachers that they must be continually improving.” She stressed to the audience how important diversity in our classrooms for the NEA and how imperative it is for our teachers to continue on their learning journey; indicating that if our classrooms are multi-national and multi-colored, our teachers and staff should be too.

The Community Outreach (MCO) is the leading department within the NEA that addresses ethnic minority students like our Latino children. Today, ethnic minority students comprise nearly 40 percent of the population in our nation’s schools. “The NEA knows that the face of American public education is rapidly changing. The NEA wants to get better at serving these students, our Latino students who need so much from us and who when they grow up, if we’ve done a good job they’re going to be able to give that back plus,” commented NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen. The NEA involvement with CHCI is critical for the Latino community and through their work with CHCI they are able to foster relationships with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Members, remarkable Hispanic non-profit institutions, labor organizations, foundations, coalitions, multinational corporations, and small business communities. In the partnership of the NEA and CHCI attendees allowed the NEA to highlight our work around ESEA, elevating education profession, DREAM Act, English Language Learners, education jobs, collective bargaining, minority community outreach, the priority schools campaign, and civil rights.

Guadalupe Hernandez lives in Washington D.C.