“¿Qué puedo darle yo a una escuela tan grande y prestigiosa?”
“What could I ever give to such a large and prestigious school?”
In my 13 years as an educator working with Latino families, I have heard many versions of this question from first-generation, low-income parents. To many, stepping into our college prep campus can be daunting, and families are often left feeling overwhelmed by the school’s size and the community’s evident wealth. A disconnect often arises, leading them to question if they truly belong in our community.
How can we, as Jesuit educators, or in a broader context in our communities, respond to this reality and so many others like it?
First, we must examine what role we have in creating systems that might inadvertently welcome some while isolating others. It is our responsibility to build inclusive and equitable schools and communities in which individuals and families from all walks of life feel valued and embraced. Though an integral part of the process, it is not enough to simply award tuition assistance to deserving students. Rather, we are called to create spaces that invite those who are often overlooked to the table.
Six years ago, we started a group for Spanish-speaking families called Familias Unidas de Bellarmine (FUB). Through monthly gatherings, parents have found a place to form bonds of kinship, learn how to support their sons at a college prep school and gain the confidence to join the larger Bellarmine community in their own, authentic way. While the original goal was to provide academic and personal support to families in their native language, FUB has grown to become an integral part of our campus. Among other things, they now organize events such as the Día de Muertos Festival and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to honor their cultural heritage.
By sharing their unique gifts and identity, FUB parents have contributed so much to Bellarmine. Not only do more than 500 people regularly attend their events, but they have also taught our community about the importance of finding ourselves in the stories of others—that through inclusion and solidarity, the initial perceived brokenness and isolation are no more.
Carlos Jiménez is the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Bellarmine College Prep in San José. A graduate from Santa Clara University, where he obtained a B.S. in political science and a single subject teaching credential in social studies, Carlos has more than 13 years of experience providing support and advocacy for first-generation, low-income students and their families.