In high school, Leticia Amezcua, Berkeley High School’s (BHS) engagement specialist, noticed that her school provided few resources for parents with limited English proficiency. Her mother, who was not fluent in English, felt unwelcome and unsupported. Every day, Amezcua brings her own experience to her job at the BHS Parent Resource Center, which was founded to ensure that historically marginalized families feel supported.
The questions and concerns of families of color, low income, and limited English proficiency are often ignored or barely addressed by schools. The Parent Resource Center provides resources to help these families navigate BHS.
“This is about building relationships with parents, because a lot of our parents have a fear of coming to school,” Amezcua said. “There’s that lack of knowledge about this educational system, how it works; there’s a lack of language. So my job is to make sure that they feel comfortable, [that] they feel safe,” she continued.
Irma Parker established the Parent Resource Center in 2000. Parker pushed for the creation of a center that would provide families of color with information regarding graduation, success in school, and community events.
After a study done by the University of California (UC), Berkeley showed a clear connection between parent engagement and student success, Parker was able to get funding through the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) and start the office, where she worked as a parent engagement specialist. Amezcua was hired as a second parent engagement specialist in 2011.
“Before we had the Parent Resource Center, there wasn’t an intermediary and there wasn’t anybody … who would target specifically parents of underrepresented groups,” said Alan Miller, a longtime BHS teacher of African American Studies.
The Parent Resource Center’s work varies on a day-to-day basis; sometimes a day is dedicated to one family, while other days it serve 20 families.
Working across language barriers is vital to parent engagement. Amezcua helps non-English speaking Latinx families learn how to use Infinite Campus, communicate with teachers, and set up an email account.
“It’s those little things that [we do] to break barriers. When a parent doesn’t speak English, it just makes things overwhelming for [them],” Amezcua said.
The Parent Resource Center is in contact with people from multiple departments, such as teachers, academic and mental health counselors, college and career counselors, and administrators. It also connects students with scholarships, hosts the Latinx and African American graduations, and holds parent workshops.
Jasmine Platt, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), said Parker informed her about several extracurriculars that helped her become more involved at BHS and supported her in the journey to college. Platt was directed to the Black Student Union her sophomore year, as well as the College Bound program. She is now the senior class president of College Bound and has won scholarships from the program.
The Parent Resource Center is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the school’s closure from 2020 to 2021, the center used money from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund to help families in need.
Amezcua continues to support families outside of school. Over her break, she found a shelter for a family and delivered them food.
BHS parent Raychelle Lee said the Parent Resource Center fostered important connections and communication over the school closure.
“For our kids, COVID-19 was a make or break,” Lee said. “There were laptops that a lot of parents may not have known about that would help their kids in school.” Lee said that Parker, while working remotely, successfully contacted parents, provided computers, and helped parents navigate the remote school environment.
“There [were] times when we needed someone to be able to communicate with the teachers, because I just couldn’t get through,” said BHS parent Babalwa Kwanele, who goes by Ms. Love. “The Parent Resource Center was also able to be a bridge between some of the school, teachers, administrators, and tech stuff.”
Amezcua’s goal for the center is to be able to provide monthly workshops and support groups. She hopes to start a support group for parents of children with special education needs. However, the capacity of the Parent Resource Center is limited by funding constraints.
“I don’t call them goals, I see them more as dreams. Sometimes it’s so hard to actually accomplish my goals because a lot of it has funding attached to it,” Amezcua said.
The Parent Resource Center accepts online donations or checks made out to the Berkeley Public Schools Fund under the memo “BHS Family Fund.”