Parents of Hedges pave way for future generations

From left to right: Marina Alonso, Rosa Bolaños, Ana Rodarte, Ana Macias, Elvia Arreola. Bottom from left to right: Arlena Garibay, Alma Sanchez and Kimberly Garcia (child). (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

From left to right: Marina Alonso, Rosa Bolaños, Ana Rodarte, Ana Macias, Elvia Arreola.  Bottom from left to right: Arlena Garibay, Alma Sanchez and Kimberly Garcia (child).  (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

The aroma of pickled jalapenos filled the room at Hedges Elementary as a group of mothers chatted while they finished breakfast.

The Padres de Hedges convene every day while their children attend class to plan school projects, patrol the school grounds and inform parents of community resources.

The group formed about 25 years ago when they recognized the need for full-time, bilingual translation for people in their community school, explained Marina Alonso, Hedges Elementary community school representative.

Members of the group include Rosa Bolaños, who just moved to the Back of the Yards with her family 7 months ago, Elva “La China” Arriola who has been in the group for nine years and is president of the Hedges Local School Council (LSC) and Arlena Garibay, a 10-year member of the group who also serves on the LSC.

A majority of the mothers agreed that they want to provide a life for their children where they are set up for academic success in a supportive space- something they didn’t have while growing up.

“[We] believe it is important to have these types of groups in the community so that the kids feel confident [and] show the kids that there is always something to learn,” Garibay said.

Alonso, who has been a Hedges employee for close to 30 years, reminisced about her early days at the school when there were few Spanish-speaking teachers and staff members in a rapidly growing Latino neighborhood.

The idea was that by training parents on family health and preventative care, in addition to other essential life skills, students and families as a whole would be healthier, happier and more successful.

This capacity-building approach cultivated a multi-generational culture of parent volunteers who are not only invested in their children’s education but also become leaders in the community.

To this day, parents whose children have since left the school continue to return and lend a helping hand during and after school hours, Alonso said.

Veronica Ortega, who works in the school’s lunchroom cafeteria, continues to volunteer her time to the Parents of Hedges and the children. “My principal motivation is the kids and the community, everyone transits through the streets and it is important for them to always feel safe.” She went on to say that it is a beautiful learning experience and truly enjoys bumping into Hedges’ alumni and feels proud when they recognize her and take the time to introduce her to their loved ones. Ortega believes that getting involved is easy and can start with attending a meeting, participating and getting first hand experience.

Toward the end of the school year, the Parents of Hedges organize a “Fun Day” for the community, highlighting the artistic works of students. The outdoor event is planned around a specific theme each year. The 2016 “Fun Day” was centered on Copa America, the oldest international continental fútbol competition.

On Winchester from 46th to 47th streets, the block is adorned with flags from different countries that participate in Copa America. The artwork is displayed all throughout the festival, and student musicians perform while others show off their dance moves.

Because of the violence throughout the neighborhood, parents are hesitant to let their children play freely outside. Hedges “Fun Day,” and other events organized by the group create a safe space for youth whose parents often take the day off to participate in the event with their children.

“Despite the violence, poverty and other obstacles, [neighborhood youth] are succeeding because the values [we teach in the parent group] are passed on to the home and they come from people who give them a chance to be successful,” Alonso said.