Things That Matter

Here’s Why Roxana Dueñas, A Teacher In Boyle Heights, Became The Face Of The LA Teachers’ Strike

Roxana Dueñas remembers walking through the streets of Boyle Heights to get to school. She attended Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, which was the site of the 1968 walkouts. During the 1968 walkouts, Chicano students protested unequal treatment. Today, Dueñas is walking those same streets leading a new protest but this time as a teacher. She is one of the thousands of teachers striking on behalf of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) as they seek higher pay and better classroom conditions. She has also quickly become the face of the LA teachers strike as her image has been seen on posters, billboards, and classroom walls across Southern California.

Roxana Dueñas is steadfast and determined in the LA Teachers Strike poster urging people to “Stand With LA Teachers!”

CREDIT: Credit: UTLA

Dueñas, 34, has taught history and ethnic studies at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights for the past nine years. Growing up in the neighborhood was a big reason she wanted to return and teach there after graduating from UCLA with her master’s in education. It was her time at UC Santa Barbara, however, where she learned about Chicano studies and how was she was devoid of the history that happened at her own high school.

“My high school experience was positive for the most part but when I took my first ethnic study class in college I learned that my high school was part of the Chicano walkouts,” Dueñas said. “They never taught us about it and it made me realize not everyone had the same experience as me growing up.”

That’s why she made it a mission to create a learning environment where students could learn about their culture. In 2014, her and two other teachers created an ethnic studies curriculum that taught students about the local Chicano history that happened in their neighborhood. Her colleagues and students acknowledge her commitment and passion for teaching, it’s also a big reason why she was chosen to be highlighted on a poster.

Ernesto Yereno, a local Boyle Heights artist, chose to highlight Dueñas because he knew what her image represents in the majority Latino school district.

CREDIT: Credit: Ernesto Yerena

Yerena, who has a studio in Boyle Heights, met Dueñas after realizing they had mutual friends and shared similar views. After the UTLA approached him about creating some work for their campaign, he knew Dueñas was the perfect embodiment of what the strike should be representing.

“Roxy is an awesome teacher and an even better person. A lot of the kids look up to her in the community,” Yerena said. “I knew what impact she would have so it was a no-doubter to have her as the face of the strike.”

The 32-year-old artist specializes in political art, particularly work that highlights Latino people and culture. He says that highlighting a person of color is important especially in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where less than 11 percent of students are white and 66 percent of teachers are people of color.

“A lot of times people tell me they see themselves in my work and, as brown people, we never see someone like us so when they do its a big deal,” he said. “Representation matters especially a majority Latino area like this. Growing up all I had were white teachers so Roxy is a mirror image of who she is standing up for on the picket lines.”

Dueñas recalls two young girls asking to take a picture with her and having her one of her students show the poster as her lock-screen image. “To me it’s unbelievable and it empowering to see young girls look up to you. It makes me feel like we’re on the right side.”

Dueñas says she is humbled by the artwork and wants it to remind people of the importance of the changing demographics in this country.

CREDIT: CREDIT: Empan16/Twitter

When asked what it means to not only be the face of the strike but have it be a Latina, Dueñas said she hopes it’s the start of a shift in representation.

“I’m optimistic,” she says. “It means there’s a change in terms of the demographics of our teachers and the students they serve in their communities nationwide.”

She acknowledges that school is more than just a place to learn for many students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The majority of students are low-income as more than 80 percent of its students get free or reduced-price lunches. Parents use school as daycare, a place where their children get fed and foster relationships with teachers especially here in East LA.

“That’s the driving force behind our school site. They are more than just academic learning centers but a place where they foster relationships with teachers,” Dueñas said. “You can’t serve without observing the other. These things are interconnecting and our young people have a broad range of needs.”

The LA Teachers Strike has brought support from students and parents that Dueñas says reminds her of why she got into teaching in the first place.

CREDIT: Credit: Twitter/JosephBrusky

“It all has definitely been humbling and really its surreal to see my face everywhere,” Dueñas said. “I was pouring rain the first four days of the strike and we had parents and students come by to show their support, I can’t put that into words.”

Dueñas, whose father was a cook and had a stay-at-home mom who immigrated from Mexico, says she’s been approached by many parents thanking her for taking a stand for their children’s education. She understands the sentiment and the responsibility she has not only as a teacher but as a role model in the working class neighborhood she grew up in.

As union leaders and teachers reached an agreement after six days of picketing, Dueñas says addressing issues like smaller class sizes and hiring more support staff is more imperative than ever. She says the strike was bigger than just one demand but an attempt to transform a place of learning especially in communities of color like Boyle Heights.

“When I see my students for the first time after the strike ends, I want to tell them one thing,” Dueñas said. “I want them to see that organizing works and I hope more importantly they can see themselves making a difference in their own community.”


READ: As LA Teachers Go Into The Second Day Of Their Strike, A GoFundMe Campaign Is Bringing Tacos To The Picket Lines

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FIERCE Maestras Are Giving Newbie Teachers Career Advice And It’s Basically The Sweetest Thing

Fierce

FIERCE Maestras Are Giving Newbie Teachers Career Advice And It’s Basically The Sweetest Thing

Joe Raedle / Getty

No matter what experiences you’ve had as a student, hopefully you have had at least a handful of teachers who left good impressions on you. As a whole class of students from this year graduate and become teachers themselves, we wanted to ask veteran maestras for advice on how to continue the cycle of positivity.

In a recent post to our Instagram page we asked all our FIERCE maestras, what advice do they have for a new teacher and boy did they deliver!

Check out the replies below!

Stay nourished.

“Advice: eat during your break girl and practice self-care.” – la_misses_m

Take it easy.

“Take it one day at a time. At times you will doubt yourself but push through the all the challenges. Always remember why you are there, which is to teach your students. You got this!! Good luck!!” – erixcii

Make sure you’re feeding your relationships.

“Focus on relationships above everything. Relationships with your students and their families!”- allirousey

Don’t forget to build relationships with your students.

“Self-care and building relationships with your students and families!!” – jazzyfue

And definitely remember to trust yourself.

“I’m an SLP, but I would tell her to trust herself!! You got this! You know your kids and you talents!” – maryoso_moli

Self-care Sundays shall your temple.

“Practice Self-care and build relationships with students. Remember to always be kind to the janitors/grounds keepers/ clerical staff (they make our jobs easier). Consider keeping a scrap book or journal of sweet notes and emails that you can look through on the tough days. Always teach with your heart and with a growth mindset; never get complacent because our profession is ever changing and we will likely never have the exact same group of kiddos again. Keep learning from your coworkers (what to do and what not to do), from your students, insta teachers, workshops, and personal experience (make notes to yourself in your planner for next year). Being organized has saved me, even on the most hectic days. Always have a back up lesson available. Empathy is key! Take. Days. Off. I know lesson plans are time consuming, but your mental health is worth prioritizing.” – cmirene

Know it gets better over time.

“The first year may be hard, but it gets better and better every year.”- yulzzzz5

Don’t be a Yes Ma’am.

“Advice: learn to say no. You’ll be super compelled to go more than above and beyond because it’s all for the kids and as much as I ADORE AND LOVE my students just as I am sure you will you need some you time. I started being the only teacher at school functions and being stressed about helping my high schoolers have the best time that I was drowning. Love them but love yourself too! You deserve you time.” – del_ranita

Don’t be a shrinking violet.

“Don’t shrink yourself to make your whyte colleagues feel comfortable. Connect with other teachers of color and ask for/give support. Lead with love for your students. They should always come first.”- queenurbie

Be an authentic leader.

“My one piece of advice is to invest time in getting to know your students, their stories and be your authentic self with them. Kids love knowing that their teachers are people and are just like them.” – meerehyah@educatinglittleminds 

And finally, remember ya live and learn!

“I remember I used to always want to be “perfect” for them and would fear making mistakes or letting them see me when things wouldn’t go right. When a lesson didn’t work out as planned. I learned to let that go and to let them see me make mistakes. It is okay! And it is okay to admit it. They’ll appreciate it! Teaches them that we aren’t all perfect and we all make mistakes-it’s a part of life. Teach on and be You! They’ll love every piece of you.” – su_heeey

A High School Athlete Is Refusing To Wear Robert E. Lee’s Name On Her Track Uniform

Things That Matter

A High School Athlete Is Refusing To Wear Robert E. Lee’s Name On Her Track Uniform

Chip Somodevilla / Getty

For much too long, Black and POC students across the country have been forced to attend education systems with the names of people celebrated for their historical acts of oppression against them. According to Education Week, at least 185 schools in the United States are named for men with ties to the Confederacy,

Trude Lamb, a Black teen and incoming high school sophomore, is just one of those students being forced to attend a university with a racist leader.

Recently, she’s decided enough is enough.

Lamb has won countless medals for her school Robert E. Lee High School’s cross country team.

In a recent letter to the school board, Lamb wrote that she would no longer wear the school’s jersey, which features the name “Tyler Lee.” Tyler stands for the Tyler Independent School District which is located in the city of Tyler, Texas. Lee stands for the school’s name, Robert E. Lee High School. According to Lamb, each victory she takes a photo for acts as a painful reminder that she is being forced to inadvertently support Robert E. Lee.

Lamb points out that while Tyler Lee might not be Lee’s full name, it’s “still his name,” Lamb said. “It’s just a shorter version of Robert E. Lee. It still reminds me of who he was,” Lamb told CNN in a recent interview.

Lee was a Confederate general who owned slaves and John Tyler, who was the tenth president of the United States, actively pushed to create the Southern Confederacy.

Lamb added that her school glorifies, Lee in their alma mater as well. The alma mater says “Robert E. Lee we raise our voice in praise of your name. May honor and glory e’er guide you to fame.”

“What has he done for him to be praised like that?” Lamb said of Lee.

According to CNN, in 2018, community members attempted to urge the school board to change the name of the high school.

Unfortunately, after no one seconded the motion during the school board meeting, it failed to pass. Now Lamb and other students are pledging not to wear Lee’s name for school events. A petition is calling the school to change its name and has over 10,000 signatures. Some have also called for the name of another school in the district to also be changed.

On Monday evening, protesters gathered outside the school district’s administration office demanding that the name to be changed.

The issue of the schools’ names change was not on the agenda but Lamb signed up to read her letter for it.

“I am from Ghana, Africa where slavery first began,” Lamb’s letter reads. “I have stood in the dungeons of the slave castle and seen the three-foot urine and feces stains on the walls where my brothers and sisters were kept. I’ve seen the tiny hole at the top of the ceiling where they would throw food into the captured souls.”

Lamb’s adopted mother, Laura Owens told CNN that if the school’s name isn’t changed before the school year begins she and other parents will look into filing a lawsuit for violation of civil rights.

Check out Lamb’s letter in full below:

I am one of you(r) true African and 1st generation African American students at REL. I am from Ghana, Africa where slavery first began. I came to America in 2014. I have stood in the dungeons of the slave castle and seen the three foot urine and feces stains on the walls where my brothers and sisters were kept. I’ve seen the tiny hole at the top of the ceiling where they would throw food in to the captured souls. I’ve walked through the “Gate of No Return” where over 12 million of my brothers and sisters were kidnapped never to return back to their home.

I have worked the very fields and fetched water for my family from the very places my people were kidnapped.I love and enjoy the sports I play at REL. I can’t be playing sports, supporting, and going to a school that was named after a person who was against my people right here in the United States. He owned slaves and didn’t believe people like me were 100% human let alone ever go to my very high school. I cannot bear and will no longer wear his name on my race jersey. I’m currently the fastest girl on your varsity cross country team. I held that place my 9th grade year and plan to do the same my 10th grade year.I don’t see a future of remembering a person who did nothing for our country and who didn’t care for me or my people. He continues to bring our city down.

As one of your black students, I’m respectfully asking you to take up the REL name change issue. Please vote to change the name, not to “Tyler LEE” but after someone who we can all be proud of. Using the excuse that it would be too expensive, is not okay. This town was built on the backs of my enslaved brothers and sisters. Do it in their memory and honor the future of their ancestors that are at REL.I hope you understand where I am coming from.

Sincerely

,Gertrude “Trude” A. Lamb