Cohort Reflections

Canko Robert

Mexicans Don’t Sing About Their Horses

Robert E. Canko

NAM Sustainability & Outreach ManagerBayer – U.S. Crop Science

VCLA’s Cohort 27 Legends convened at the Oxnard Union High School District for our sixth session on the first Friday of February 2022.  We enjoyed a wildly enlightening day on the topic of education in Ventura County from a wide cast of selfless leaders in education.  Despite residing in Ventura County for over a decade, I have no first-hand experience with any of our county’s schools.  I welcomed the topic with fresh ears and walked away feeling excited for the students of our county to be in such good hands.

Where brilliance and wisdom intersected, we enjoyed a gripping oral history of education in Oxnard from Dr. Joe Mendoza. We learned of an Oxnard from Dr. Mendoza’s childhood that I was not aware of; a not very distant past where segregation and discrimination were the rule as the City of Oxnard came into existence. Dr. Mendoza described to us how our society educates people in a way that can cause unintended consequences across generations of American immigrants. A demonstration of how America’s education system would lead the children of immigrants (2nd generation) to reject their parent’s (1st gen.) native culture only for their children (3rd gen.) to rediscover the culture of their heritage was instantly relatable for me. Being the 3rd generation American, the grandson of immigrants to America, I have worked to rediscover the cultures of my grandparents that my parents had resisted. Lest my children become the completely acculturated Americans they may have been destined to become otherwise. Hearing of Dr. Mendoza’s many “Aztec” sayings helped me to better understand detached Mexican roots I am only somewhat familiar with.

For a deep dive into local education, we heard from panels of leaders at the primary, secondary, and collegiate academic levels discussing how the Covid pandemic created unforeseen challenges and how technology and communication were leveraged to unite educators and resources to forge a new path forward. The tribulations we heard of school board members enduring were unnerving and a stark reminder to be grateful for the sacrifices made by educators for the sake of the children they work with. I was inspired to see how a group of leaders functioned together during difficult times to come through the pandemic with a renewed focus on the mental health and wellbeing of students and faculty alike, while improving accessibility to education for people of all ages and economic backgrounds. Learning from our past mistakes will help us to avoid them in the future and these wonderful educators are laying the foundation for the next generation of Ventura County residents to be more resilient than ever.

Finally, we heard a passionate call to action from Sinead Chilton with Schools on Wheels. We learned how the stigmas and chaos that define a life of poverty will often allow children struggling with homelessness to fall through the cracks of the education system despite best efforts from our communities. Tutors and mentors that provide guidance and inspiration to struggling students can be the difference makers of a lifetime. Just as our public education systems have adapted for modern times, so has the ability for volunteers to connect with students remotely and more efficiently.

As a young parent in Ventura County, I couldn’t have been more impressed by the day’s speakers and thankful to the VCLA program for connecting us with them.