Located seven miles north of the Mexican border, Donna, Texas, has more than 16,000 residents, 98% of whom are Hispanic. This low-income community has experienced the ready availability of drugs, the presence of gangs, and high rates of teen pregnancy, school dropout, and violence.
The Donna SS/HS Initiative recognized that family engagement and parent education would be a key strategy for addressing these challenges; however, many parents did not trust the school administration, nor did they trust law enforcement or many other community agencies. Many parents had not attended school and could not read or write. In addition, many lacked transportation and could not get to parent education sessions held at the schools.
As a result, the SS/HS Initiative began partnering with ARISE, a local organization based in the “colonias”, a Spanish term for neighborhood or community, to bring educational programs to the primarily Spanish-speaking families. By meeting with four women from ARISE for two years to discuss family concerns, the SS/HS project director developed a strong partnership built on trust and respect. The four ARISE members ultimately joined the SS/HS Core Management Team (CMT), and the group’s meetings are now conducted in Spanish.
Today, the school superintendent is very committed and regularly goes to the colonias to meet with parents so he can personally tell them how important their engagement is to the school district. The sheriff, Texas Highway patrol, and Donna Police Department periodically visit the colonias, with the result that families feel safer and law enforcement officers are now welcomed into the community.
As SS/HS partners, law enforcement officers also deliver the evidence-based Gang Resistance Education and Training in the schools and have developed a trusting relationship with students. The SS/HS project director and other members of the CMT also work closely with students and their families to help them find clothing, medication, and housing.
This collaboration is an example of community organizing at its best. All aspects of the program are built on the core Hispanic cultural values of trust and respect and on all parents’ desire for their children to be safe and successful.