Suzette Valladares | Back to School: Empowering Parents 101

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The new school year is here and, as parents and students prepare to learn during the most uncertain of times, as a parent and educator I can’t help but think about the long-term impacts for our students in early learning, K-12 education and California colleges for years to come. 

As my own staff and teachers prepare for the new school year at Little Steps of Faith, my worries continue to mount and this experience motivates me to do more for our kids. 

Student enrollment for preschool providers has dropped exponentially. My preschool typically serves 30-40 students, but our enrollment has dropped nearly 60% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across early-childhood education, enrollment is down and many providers, like so many small businesses, have closed their doors permanently. 

The tragic implications include child care shortages detrimental to our efforts of getting people back to work. We need to make it easier, not tougher for parents to get back to work and have great child care options. The loss of preschool seats is certain to raise the cost of available seats. 

As it is, the average family spends 10% of their income on child care, according to the American Center for Progress.  

For our K-12 students and parents, anxiety is mounting as they try to navigate distance learning, Zoom, differing curriculums for different ages, all the while playing teacher, IT expert and parent. 

Classroom structure and curriculum has changed so much over the last decade and for most parents it looks completely different from what and how we were taught. We have no idea how to understand, yet alone teach, common core to our children. 

I’ve seen social media post after post from parents and students who have had breakdowns just a week or two into the virtual school year. In a state that is 46th in the nation when it comes to education, the risk of our children receiving subpar education is high. 

Add to that the danger of social isolation for a generation that is already glued to a screen and more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. The Centers for Disease Control has already reported an increase in suicide and suicidal thoughts as a direct result of the pandemic response. 

The current power structure in Sacramento is failing our school children.   

And let’s not forget our community college and university students, the impact on their degree and career paths due to online-only instruction and a system that has become too costly, less accessible and made it complicated to finish degrees. 

So many of our local students at College of the Canyons, CSUN and a variety of other schools have one more challenge added to an already cumbersome higher education system. 

It’s especially detrimental to full-time working students and those looking to reskill for more competitive employment opportunities. As a young working professional, I transferred from the University of California to the California State University, to reduce my expenses while holding a full-time job. 

Juggling work and class schedules, I ultimately was less than one unit short of a specific class and postponed my degree completion. Being a working student was tough a decade prior to COVID-19. I can only imagine how working students’ anxieties have grown during a pandemic.  

As a state and region we must get jobs moving, and reduce the skyrocketing cost of living – if we aren’t putting students first, from early childhood education, through K-12, and to our community college and university students, recovery becomes tough and the future grim. 

We need to put students first – at all levels – and get them back into positive learning environments, including in the classroom, safely and responsibly. California needs to do a better job empowering parents and providing more educational options. 

More than ever we need a voice in Sacramento that understands the educational struggles of students, parents, teachers and administrators. As an educator, parent and small business operator, that voice is mine. This may be the most critical time in history to send someone with my experience and understanding to advocate for our children’s education. 

Suzette Valladares is a candidate for the 38th Assembly District. She is CEO of a nonprofit preschool. She resides in Newhall with her husband and daughter. 

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