In high school, Berkeley High School (BHS) Engagement Specialist Leticia Amezcua noticed that her school offered few resources for parents with limited English proficiency. Her mother, who was not fluent in English, felt unwelcome and unsupported. Every day, Amezcua brings her own experience to her work at the BHS Parent Resource Center, which was founded to ensure that historically marginalized families feel supported.
The questions and concerns of families of color, low income and with limited English proficiency are often ignored or barely addressed by schools. The Parent Resource Center provides resources to help these families navigate the BHS.
“It’s about building relationships with parents, because a lot of our parents are afraid to come to school,” Amezcua said. “There is this lack of knowledge about this education system, how it works; there is a lack of language. So my job is to make sure they feel comfortable, [that] they feel safe,” she continued.
Irma Parker established the Parent Resource Center in 2000. Parker lobbied for the creation of a center that would provide families of color with information about graduation, academic success, and community events.
After a study by the University of California (UC), Berkeley showed a clear link between parental engagement and student achievement, Parker was able to secure funding through the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) and start the office, where she worked as a parent engagement specialist. Amezcua was hired as the second parent engagement specialist in 2011.
“Before we had the Parent Resource Center, there was no middle man and there was no one … who would specifically target parents from underrepresented groups,” said Alan Miller, a longtime teacher from the BHS in African American Studies.
The work of the Parent Resource Center varies from day to day; sometimes a day is dedicated to one family, while other days it serves 20 families.
Working across language barriers is key to engaging parents. Amezcua helps non-English speaking Latinx families learn how to use Infinite Campus, communicate with teachers, and set up an email account.
“It’s those little things that [we do] to break down barriers. When a parent does not speak English, it makes things overwhelming for [them]Amezcua said.
The Parent Resource Center connects with people from multiple departments, such as teachers, school and mental health counselors, academic and career counselors, and administrators. It also connects students with scholarships, welcomes Latinx and African American degrees, and runs workshops for parents.
Academic Choice (AC) senior Jasmine Platt said Parker informed her of several extracurricular activities that helped her become more involved at BHS and supported her on her journey to college. Platt was directed to the Black Student Union her sophomore year, as well as the College Bound program. She is now College Bound’s senior class president and has won scholarships from the program.
The Parent Resource Center is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the school’s closure from 2020 to 2021, the center used money from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund to help families in need.
Amezcua continues to support families outside of school. During her break, she found shelter for a family and delivered food to them.
BHS parent Raychelle Lee said the parent resource center has fostered important bonding and communication during the school closure.
“For our children, COVID-19 was decisive,” Lee said. “There were laptops that a lot of parents might not know about that would help their kids in school.” Lee said Parker, while working remotely, successfully contacted parents, provided computers and helped parents navigate the remote school environment.
“The [were] times when we needed someone to be able to communicate with the teachers, because I just couldn’t get through,” said BHS parent Babalwa Kwanele, who goes by Ms Love. “The parent resource center was also able to serve as a bridge between part of the school, teachers, administrators and technicians.”
Amezcua’s goal for the center is to be able to offer monthly workshops and support groups. She hopes to start a support group for parents of children with special educational needs. However, the capacity of the Parent Resource Center is limited by funding constraints.
“I don’t call them goals, I see them more like dreams. Sometimes it’s so hard to achieve my goals because a lot of my goals come with funding,” Amezcua said.
The Parent Resource Center accepts online donations or checks made out to the Berkeley Public Schools Fund under the memo “BHS Family Fund.”