Tucson mom Christina Hernandez has watched her daughter’s school slowly decline. First it lost its music classes. Then it lost its librarian. Now parents are working on fundraisers to help pay a few of the teacher’s salaries.

Christina Hernandez with daughter Natalie/submitted photo

Christina Hernandez with daughter Natalie/submitted photo

Yes, you heard that right: Parents are working on fundraisers to help pay a few teacher salaries.

Rather than sit back and bemoan the state’s decrepit state of education, Hernandez took action.

Her efforts not only helped raise money and morale – including more than $40,000 in the school’s annual Spellathon – but it also earned her a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Arizona in Parenting magazine’s inaugural Mom Congress on Education and Learning Conference.

Parenting created Mom Congress in March 2009 to connect moms who are education advocates for their kids’ schools. More than 16,000 moms across the nation are part of Mom Congress, with new members always welcome.

Hernandez will join 50 of those members, one chosen to represent each state and Washington, D.C., at the May 2 to 4 conference.

Hernandez has three children, 7-year-old Natalie, 26-year-old Lorenzo, and 28-year-old Missy; two dogs, ChaCha and Rosina; husband Lorenzo who doubles as her best friend – and a drive that makes Arizona proud.

Here’s her story:

I graduated from Sunnyside High School, attended Los Ranchitos Elementary School and have wonderful memories of my years in school.

My teachers were passionate about their careers and that passion caused the students to have a desire to learn. They encouraged us and helped us to believe that we could one day become whatever we dreamed. I enjoyed learning all types of sports in physical education, the result of mixing two colors together in art class, and how to read and sing music with others in music class. All of these extracurricular classes helped me grow and become the individual that I am today.

Unfortunately, extracurricular classes are a no longer in most public, private or charter schools due to the increasing budget cuts in the state of Arizona. Parents must seek out other means to give their child the opportunities to learn and grow in sports, music, art, computers, etc.

Extracurricular classes are a win-win for students, teachers, and parents. They allow students to grow in creative ways, teachers have the much needed preparation time, and parents don’t have to come out of pocket to provide these experiences for their child.

Arizona, as well as most states, has been in a huge budget crisis for a few years, and no one is able to see the light at the end of the tunnel now, or in the near future.

Unfortunately, our children are getting the brunt of this. We live in the Tucson Unified School District, the largest school district in the state. My daughter, Natalie, attends Soleng Tom Elementary School, 10520 E. Camino Quince, and is in second grade.

Natalie loves Soleng Tom and we chose it because it was an Excelling School, it had a continuity of high testing scores, it offered many extra curricular classes, and after meeting the principal and teachers, knew it was where Natalie belonged.

When Natalie began kindergarten her school offered music (for fourth and fifth grades), computers with a computer tech teacher, PE, and library with a librarian.

In first grade they lost the music/band teacher, due to the budget cuts. Their librarian was cut to part time, and even though they had computer class, there was with no tech to teach it.

This, her third year, they’ve lost their librarian and could not afford to replace her. The students now depend on parent volunteers to come each day so they may be able to check out books. Music/band classes have not returned. Soleng Tom is very close to its maximum capacity with 500-plus students and does not get any extra funding from Title 1 or government monies.

TUSD and other districts are having to, once again, fine tune their school budget with less and less monies for this upcoming school year. Schools operating at half capacity are being offered extra curricular classes if they merge with another under capacity school. They are being offered PE, music, art, a fully staffed library, counselor and some will even have two principals.

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Illustration Ryn Gargulinski

This isn’t the solution; this is opening a bigger can of worms. It’s not caring for all the students in the district, especially those in the excelling, over capacity schools.

They have to “share” the monies throughout the district, especially with those schools that get no aid from the state or the government. If the budget crisis continues over a long duration, these once excelling schools will no longer be. Arizona schools are already ranked 50th in the country, our state can’t allow us to drop any lower.

Last school year, when I saw what was happening in my daughter’s school I knew I had to get involved and help wherever I was needed. I jumped in with all fours and joined their awesome PTSA. I have worked with other parents who take pride in, and have passion for our children’s school. Together we’ve been able to raise a substantial amount of money to help teachers with supplies throughout the school year, paper for the copy room, and now with the announcement of more teachers being let go, we are working hard to raise enough money to pay for a few of the teacher’s salaries.

Did anyone ever think the day would come when parents and students would have to figure out how to pay the salaries of their teachers in a PUBLIC school?

We do not want our children’s class sizes to grow – that is not what is best for our students. We want our students to have the same opportunities as those students living in states that are ranked at the top, the states that believe in best education practices for their children.

I’m a passionate people person and I try to learn something from everyone I meet. Over the years I’ve admired moms who’ve worked hard to help make their children’s school the best it can be. I’ve learned from them and have been fortunate to bring what I’ve learned to Natalie’s school. I’m always thinking about what we can do next or I ask parents I meet what they’re doing at their school to make their schools a better place for our children in these hard economic times.

As parents, we all want what is best for our child and the only way to achieve this is by remembering it does “take a village.”

I want to encourage all parents to get involved in their child’s school. We have a voice. We can make a difference in our child’s education.

Natalie loves that I’m a member of her schools PTSA. I try to include her in everything I do to teach her compassion for others, to learn from others and to have pride in her school. I encourage all parents working or not to get involved with your child’s school, not only will it benefit your child’s school, but you and your child will be working together to make school a better place.

When the Haiti disaster happened, it really touched Natalie and she wanted to know how she could help. I told her that her cousin was trying to raise money at his school. The next day Natalie came home and told me that she had talked to her teacher and counselor and she was going to collect change for Haiti for one week.

Together we put hearts on bins that read “Help 4 Haiti” and the counselor distributed one to every classroom for her. Natalie was very proud when, at the end of the week, together with her peers, they had brought in just under $600.

That was a very proud Mom moment!

This trip to Washington, D.C. is exciting and I’m honored to be a part of the first annual Moms Congress Convention. I knew nothing about it. My husband read it in a Parenting magazine and wrote in without my knowledge.

I’m hoping to learn more on how to better our schools from other states that rank at the top. I’m eager to learn what they’re doing for fundraising and keeping up the morale of the school in these hard economic times. We have family and friends in D.C., so I’m excited to visit with them.

Natalie and my husband will be joining me after the convention is over. What a perfect way for her to learn all about our nation’s Capital.

Way to go, Christina! Thanks for sharing your story – and providing inspiration for other parents and hope for Arizona schools. Enjoy D.C.

To learn more about the Mom Congress Conference or to join Mom Congress, visit Parenting.com/MomCongress.

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What do you think?

Are you active in your children’s education? How so?

What’s the biggest decline you’ve seen in the school system?

What’s the biggest success story you’ve heard?

Is Christina a major inspiration or what?

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