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Saturday, August 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 72.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Paper
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Latino parents get organized in Madison schools

Esther Gabriela Sanchez lasted exactly one year in her job assisting Latino students at La Follette High School.

She loved the job, helping students make sure they understand their second language of English. But she was overwhelmed by the secondary responsibilities she took on: helping parents communicate with the school.

"People were calling me every day. 'I don't have shoes.' 'It's winter and I need a coat.' 'I just lost my job.' I would go home and collapse," she says. "I was giving as much as I could but it wasn't enough. It was all outside my job description."

"I miss the kids," says Sanchez, who resigned last year. "I don't miss the stress."

But many of the school's Latino students and their parents miss Sanchez a lot. She was their advocate and connection to a system that is often confusing, especially for those who don't speak English.

"Gabby was really involved with the kids and families, helping make sure they're not falling into gangs, and made sure they were at school and in class," says Matilde Cabrera, through a translator. "Whatever issues they had, she was there."

Cabrera has lived in the United States for 20 years and has two sons, one who has already graduated and another in La Follette. She's part of a group of Latino parents who, with the help of Union de Trabajadores Inmigrantes, are working to better serve Latino students - not just at La Follette but throughout the district.

Latino parents plan to meet from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 26 at the Catholic Multicultural/ Guadalupe Center, 1862 Beld St., as a precursor to bringing their concerns to the school district.

Among other things, the parents want to make sure students have access to ESL specialists. They also seek help communicating with teachers and school administrators about whatever problems their children may be facing.

The parents know that many Americans resent public resources going to undocumented people, as some of the Latino families are. But parent Juliana Solis argues, "Most of our kids were born here, and they have rights and they have needs." She notes that undocumented workers still pay taxes.

"We're not asking for handouts," adds Cabrera. "We work a lot of jobs people don't want for low pay. We're asking for our children to have a future."

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