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GradNation Community Leader Spotlight with Adelante Mujeres

As an immigrant who has children who attended K-12 schools and she attended postsecondary schools in the United States, Patricia Alvarado learned how to navigate these systems and advocate for herself and other minority students. She has been working with young children, youth, and families for over 20 years. Today, Alvarado is the Director of Education Programs at Adelante Mujeres (Spanish for “women rise up”) where she leads educational programs that serve young people and families from 6 weeks old through adulthood.

Adelante Mujeres’ mission is to provide holistic education and empowerment opportunities to Latina women and their families. Part of this mission is to increase graduation rates of Latinos in her community. 

Alvarado says her work “provides a unique opportunity to see education as a lifelong journey.”

Read on to learn more about Adelante Mujeres’ work to help more young people graduate high school prepared for a successful future. 

How does your work help to create a GradNation for all?

I have mentored students of color and their families in their high school graduation and college enrollment goals. Students of color and their families are hardworking and resilient but need extra support on how to navigate our complicated and unequitable K-12 and postsecondary education systems. The Latino community is family oriented, and I include families in the mentoring of students, which empowers them as a support group for their children. Families have essential life knowledge that no college degree can impart, and I empower them to see that informal education as a strong value they possess. I believe that parents are the first and most important teachers and advocates for their children and they should be included as true partners in setting and achieving the educational goals of their children.

What successes in your community are you most proud of?

The increased number of students from our Latino culture that are graduating on time from high school and enrolling in college. I am proud of their families for being the best advocates for their children and for supporting their students. I have been able to create strong and trusting relationships with the families we serve, and we have learned from them how to increase the equity and quality of our program. I am inspired by the resilience of our Latino students and families and their positive attitude even in the hardest times. I am also proud to see the students I had in preschool graduate from high school and of the strong relationship I have created with their families.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work? 

Seeing the systemic racism that is embedded in educational systems and the effect that it has had in communities of color. I am advocating for policy changes at the local, state, and national levels, but it can be exhausting to have to educate people on why changes are needed. I must remind myself that my work as an agent of change is essential for communities of color and to stay strong in this journey. Seeing the injustices that students of color and families endure makes me feel outraged and sad. I believe there is a lack of appropriate funding and support to community-based organizations that promote social justice, and that is, in turn, affecting students and families of color.

What principles guide your work in education and youth development?

The value of life experiences that families bring and how to use that to build on strategies that will support their students. Families know best what their students need, and we must focus on true relationships and partnerships with families to increase the success of students of color. Equity and inclusion are big principles that direct the work that I do and the decisions that I make on a constant basis. We frequently hear people say that families need to learn how to prepare for the K-12 system and I challenge that belief by empowering parents to advocate for the changes needed in the system that will support their children’s individual needs. 

Describe what makes your work unique in one phrase.

Students and families of color don’t need to be taught how to adapt to the system, they need to be empowered to use their values to challenge the system that should provide them what they need to succeed. 

Adelante Mujeres is an acceleration site for the Every School Healthy Campaign that provides holistic education and empowerment opportunities to marginalized Latina women and families to ensure full participation and active leadership in the community. The Every School Healthy campaign is a part of Together for Healthy and Successful Schools, a collaborative initiative working to advance the vision that all schools support education and health. Together for Healthy and Successful Schools is comprised of America’s Promise Alliance, Child Trends, and Health Equity Works at Washington University in St. Louis, and it is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.