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Rabiah Rahman, VCLA Cohort XXVI
Attorney/Founder, Rabiah At Law
VCLA Cohort XXVI has once again demonstrated why we are #Virtutallythebest! On Feb. 5, 2021, we convened on Zoom to discuss education and how Ventura County’s educators are leading during this time of crisis.
Nearly a year into the COVID-19 global pandemic, educators have had to navigate uncharted territory. They shared some of their lessons learned and shed light on where we may be headed from here.
The day began with Dr. Joe Mendoza sharing his reflections and a historical perspective on the changes to Ventura County’s education system throughout the last 50 years. Dr. Mendoza is the director of the Special Populations Educational Support Department for the Ventura County Office of Education and a life-long educator. He addressed the importance of cultural competency in education and gave suggestions on how leaders can be more inclusive. The first tip was to listen to the community you are serving to better understand their needs and cultural dynamics. I appreciated that we began with this presentation, as it framed the rest of the day. By now we should all be aware that the pandemic has highlighted and expanded inequities within and access to education. The question now is how do we create a more equitable system as we rebuild and recover, and what is the role of cultural competency in that process?
The rest of the presentations addressed the pandemic’s impact on primary education, post-secondary education and early childhood development. We were also introduced to the unique circumstances and obstacles impacting educating a growing homeless population. We covered a lot of territory. The speakers were particularly exceptional. It was also nice to have panel presentations that offered various perspectives and diverse opinions. When the topic of school resource officers and their role on school campuses came up, the panelists were able to offer their opinions on the downsides, benefits and alternatives to having law enforcement officers in schools. It was a riveting discussion, especially noting that we have a few law enforcement professionals in our cohort, and one that I hope continues.
It was also interesting to learn about the family engagement programs being offered to bring parents together during the pandemic to help them feel less alone. I was further impressed when I learned that some educators were also being put through extensive training on how to deal with and recognize trauma. We learned that, across the board, professional development has played a large role as educators navigate these new challenges.
Another enlightening presentation came from a Ventura College student leader. The speaker offered us a glimpse into the ongoing struggles our local college students are facing as they navigate the shift to online instruction. The impacts have been great. For example, students who rely on on-campus jobs and other on-campus resources are having trouble bridging those economic and technological gaps and accessing available assistance. Many students without home access to the internet find themselves learning out of their cars, in the school parking lots, where there is WiFi access accessible.
At this point, I think it is safe to say that most of us are all “Zoom’ed out.” I really want to take this opportunity to thank Pattie Braga for continuing to work very hard to ensure that Cohort XXVI has a fulfilling and meaningful VCLA experience. One way that she has been able to create a bonding experience for us was to build in “Cohort Reflection/Discussion” time into the agenda. During these cohort discussion periods we had an opportunity to debrief and unpack some of the information discussed during the preceding panels. Also during this time, we had an opportunity to share some of our personal stories related to education and experiences in overcoming access barriers. It was a moving exchange and one I will not soon forget.
I would also like to give a special shoutout to VCLA Cohort XXV members who were able to join us for the day! It was nice to see some familiar faces and many new ones. I look forward to meeting you all in person one day!
The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated societal inequities, and there has been no clearer demonstration than in our education and medical care systems. As leaders continue to navigate a path forward, based on the leaders we had the honor of meeting with during our session on education, I have high hopes that Ventura County schools will come out better on the other side.
Katlyn Simber-Clickner, VCLA Cohort XXVI
Recreation Coordinator, Pleasant Valley Recreation & Park District
As I began to write this reflection, I wanted to highlight all the things that Distance Learning has taken from students and I wanted to highlight all the positives that have come from Distance Learning. As I went down that rabbit hole it became apparent that I could write a novel and that is not my goal. My goal is for others to learn, to grow, to think. These are questions and options that teachers, educators, administrators, elected officials, etc. must think about daily. Our school systems are not making a choice that relates to them but to thousands of children, parents, caregivers, social workers, etc. every day.
There is no charted path to take. There is no easy answer. I fear what happens when we look back in 20 years and think well, we messed that one up. So how do we fix this now?
We began our day learning about segregation in Oxnard and how things were in the 1930s through the 1970s. The 1970s were only 50 years ago. This is within our lifetimes, not so long ago. We are constantly learning and changing as we grow; we do not know right from wrong until society changes its views. So, what happens to this generation?
There was a strong statement throughout this whole session. Our students are suffering. They are suffering from technology issues, suffering from location issues, suffering from basic needs issues. Are we truly trading one pandemic for another? Just like the rest of us, our student’s basic mental health, physical health and true well beings are suffering. Why is it okay to say, “Oh well, we are addressing the COVID pandemic,” but not truly addressing the pandemic that is occurring with this turmoil of our “new normal.” Now, for some this pandemic has been a blessing and some have excelled. However, Howard Gardner taught us there are multiple intelligences and we need to address students on their level of learning. How is Distance Learning helping those who are visual learners when they only get 10 minutes with their teacher? How is Distance Learning helping those who are auditory learners when the connection keeps cutting out? How is Distance Learning helping those who are tactile learners that no longer have the cubes in front of them to help count?
After spending years of being trained to be a teacher and to be a student advocate I look at things very differently. Put your thoughts, training, and beliefs, aside for a minute, and on the basic level ask yourself are students truly okay? Yes, your children may be but what about the child that lives in a group home? Does the high school student who leans on their friends to help with everyday issues of living with an abusive parent, are they truly okay? The college student who is already working two jobs to pay tuition, who has lost a job and cannot afford a hotspot or internet, are they truly okay?
Yes, we say children are resilient. They will bounce back. But what happens when they don’t? What happens when that gap from being out of school has lasted too long? What happens to the ones that fall behind? Do they suffer because they need to be held back? Will this generation be known as the broken generation? How are they going to cope? How are we going to help them?
So I am asking not to look at how we are treating our students and how we are doing the “best” we can during this time. I am truly asking each of you to really think, “Is this the right thing to do?” If not, how can you help make this easier for your children or your friends that are students. How can you help take care of our true basic needs to include mental health? How can you be proactive during this time instead of taking a backseat and being reactive?
If one good thing comes from COVID, I hope we learn humility and we learn to truly care for those around us.
Erika Singletary, VCLA Cohort XXVI
Operations Specialist II, Ventura County Office of Education
The temperatures this winter in Ventura County have been higher than average and we are behind in the average rainfall. For some, this represents drought conditions, to others however, it means that they may be able to cope with the elements a little easier while they are experiencing homelessness.
A few weeks ago, while running holiday errands with my husband, I noticed a middle-aged woman who was using the entrance of a vacant building to shelter herself from the elements. She had a coat, some blankets, and a shopping cart filled with her belongings. I asked my husband to stop by a drive through on our way back and we gave her some food. I remember feeling powerless and wanting to do more. I’ve been praying for her ever since. As I tuck myself in my cozy bed, I wonder if she is warm enough at night, I wonder when it was the last time she spoke with someone she cared about, but most of all, I wonder if she is safe.
As we began our VCLA session on Housing, Land Use, and Homelessness held on January 8th, I was eager to learn how I might be able to help those members of our community who are experiencing homelessness. The morning opened up with former VCLA member Tara Carruth, MSW, from Ventura County Continuum of Care at the County of Ventura. She shared the solution to homelessness is housing. Tara reminded us of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Housing is part of the basic needs of a person. When someone doesn’t have to worry about their basic needs, they can be empowered to seek help for any other conditions that may have led them to be without a home. These conditions may be substance abuse, mental or physical illness, or a natural disaster. Tara shared data on how our county is struggling to meet the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness.
The lack of affordable housing was a consistent message we heard from our speakers throughout our session. Which is one of the biggest reasons there is such a big gap between the number of people served, and people moved into either housing or temporary placements.
Nicholas Deitch, Founding Partner of Mainstreet Architects shared what are very promising plans to address the affordable housing shortage in our county. He shared plan renderings of mixed used buildings where people can access affordable housing, close to where they work, access to small shops, and beautiful rooftop lofts where residents can enjoy a sense of community. The challenge comes from residents who fear building multiple story apartment buildings, may change their neighborhood in a negative way. Traffic, safety, and property value are among the higher areas of concern. However, there is no data that supports those concerns.
We also had the privilege of hearing from Rafael Stoneman, Mobile Veteran Outreach from the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. He shared his own anecdotes in his efforts to connect veterans who are experiencing homelessness with resources, services, and in the best-case scenarios, housing. It was very moving to hear from him and the stories he shared. They illustrated the different levels of challenges people are faced with when for example, their car which they are using as shelter, is taken to the pound leaving a person completely without resources. If they don’t have the money to pay the many fees to the pound and the city, the car eventually gets sold for scrap. It seems we should be able to provide some sort of leniency to those that are in dire need. Particularly, in these times of a pandemic where those who are most underserved are at such higher risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19.
Just as I was connecting the pieces and wondering how we can take action, as I am sure it was the case with all of my cohort, Max Ghenis, Co-founder & Co-lead of Ventura County YIMBY, shared ways in which YIMBY is organizing to support building plans to address the affordable housing shortage very much like those Mr. Deitch shared. When these plans are submitted to city councils for approval, it is more often you hear from those who are afraid these plans may compromise their community. Becoming more involved voicing our support for housing plans during these meetings, sharing the housing need, the positive effects it will have in the county as a whole, is extremely important to be able to help these plans move forward. Anyone who is interested can visit https://cayimby.org/ for more information.
A virtual tour to the River Haven tiny homes was one of the highlights of our session. Suki Sir virtually walked us through the site where 23 tiny houses are currently sheltering members of our community. Community members who are currently River Haven residents, are connected with services and resources including mental health, rehab centers, job placement, etc. Because, as we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, once a person has the basic needs, they can move forward with the other conditions that contributed to their inability to secure a home.
During our session, we also heard from; Eric Harrison, President & CEO of United Way of Ventura County, Barton Stern, President of Ventura Investment Co., and Tim Gallagher, Vistage Advisory Group Chair and President of The 20/20 Network. All of our speakers were informative and inspirational. I know I share the feeling with my entire cohort of giving ourselves a call to action to collaborate with each other and the entire VCLA Alumni to support our efforts to address the high need for affordable housing in our county. I very much look forward for opportunities to make a difference and a positive impact not only for that one woman I encountered, but for the many who are experiencing homelessness.
For session number four, people were divided in to teams to explore assigned cities within the county. As we ventured out in the day, we reunited in Camarillo where we got to meet Dr. David El Fattal, Acting Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Business and Administrative Services for the County Community College District. He spoke about his responsibilities and one thing that stood out was how he shared that every day was different. He could be going to Wall Street one day and the next, learning about what is the best chemicals to clean the campuses restrooms.
We also had the opportunity to learn about Coffee with a Black Guy. James Joyce III, from Cohort XVII shared about how his company came to be. What I enjoyed was how he shared personal experiences, answered tough questions and brought a sense of hope for the future as long as we continue to have a conversation.
Highlights from the groups consisted of the following: