Kansas City Public Schools has joined forces with the Mexican Consulate here to build a more educated Latino community.
District Superintendent Mark Bedell and Consul Alfonso Navarro-Bernachi on Thursday signed an agreement to open Kansas City’s first Plaza Comunitaria, where Mexican nationals and other Latino families with children in the school district can work toward attaining free education services.
At the Comunitaria, family members can take English classes and course work toward attaining what would be the equivalent of a GED degree in Mexico.
“This is an opportunity to build a healthier community,” said Bedell. “Healthy communities start with education. We had to start addressing the needs of our English-learning families in this community. This is something that makes us better and stronger as an urban school district.”
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Bedell said there are 60 different languages spoken by children attending schools in the Kansas City district. Most of them are Mexican or from other Latin American countries.
Parent/teacher liaison Eva Santiago translated Bedell’s words for the Spanish speakers who filled the classroom at East High School, where the Comunitaria is located. She said later that when families arrive in Kansas City, many come with little education.
“Many of them are undocumented,” Santiago said. “When they get here, they are in survival mode. Education may not be a priority. What we want to do here is make them advocates of education.”
Natalie Allen, the district spokeswoman, said the program could be life-changing for a lot of the English-language-learning students in the district. “Because when parents are more educated, there will be more emphasis on education in the household,” Allen said.
Comunitaria originated in Mexico and started in the United States 15 years ago “to address illiteracy,” said Navarro-Bernachi. Today, they are located in 38 states.
For the consulate, Navarro-Bernachi said, “this Comunitaria is a vital component of our outreach to the community strategy ... so our fellow Mexicans know they are not alone.”
At a time when many foreign nationals might be feeling anxiety about their status in this country because of White House efforts to limit foreign travel and immigration, the Comunitaria will also provide a place where immigrants can feel safe and get information about other community services, Navarro-Bernachi said.
Bedell said the Comunitaria, and all the Kansas City Public Schools, will be “a safe haven” for all students and their families.
“Children cannot learn if they are afraid that some authority figure is going to show up and carry them or their loved one away,” Bedell told the gathering Thursday. “It won’t be tolerated here. Know that you are safe with Kansas City Public Schools.”