Rising Up to Support Families

How RISE Colorado is elevating the voices of families and empowering them to lead the charge for equity in education

By The BELE Network

This is a part of our ongoing series on organizations that are amplifying the voices of youth and families who are reimagining schools as inclusive communities and advocating for equitable, anti-racist systems.

During this period of dual crises, with a global pandemic and systemic racism, it’s more important than ever to listen to those directly impacted — our young people and families — and invite them to actively help educators co-design and build back better. Read about how RISE Colorado is amplifying the needs of the most impacted families in Aurora, CO, and learn more in their latest needs assessment report.

In recent weeks, the BELE Network has explored and shared the stories of organizations working to elevate the voices of youth, discussing how valuable it is to have their perspectives represented at the table where decisions are made.

Other organizations are taking this idea one step further — emphasizing that it’s not only important to have student voices represented, but also to engage and include families in the process. RISE Colorado has been doing just that, recognizing that family units are agents of change, and when families are aligned, movements become stronger and more powerful.

RISE — based out of Aurora, Colorado, one of the most diverse cities in the state, and an official refugee resettlement city — has seen incredible success as they work to break down barriers to family involvement in their children’s education, and inspire families to pursue the change they wish to see in their community. Aurora is home to families from 130 countries speaking 160 languages, Founded by women of color, RISE employs and engages leaders from a multitude of cultures in order to best support those communities in Aurora.

A core tenant of RISE’s model and theory of change is that the communities most impacted by a given issue and inequity are best equipped to lead movements for action and change. For this reason, they see families as brilliant architects of policy who should be at the center of any conversation around creating more equitable schools and learning environments.

To affect the most change, RISE has adopted an inside-outside approach to their grassroots community organizing — working in partnership with the school district to promote equitable policies, while also mobilizing a grassroots movement of families to organize and advocate for the change externally. Drawing inspiration from the most successful social justice movements of the last century, RISE saw the success that leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Diane Nash, and John Lewis had working with elected officials to bring about systemic change. Following their model, RISE believes that bridging the divide between the education system and families is the best way to bring healing transformation and educational equity to Aurora.

Over their years in action, RISE has learned a lot about what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to organizing their community to combat systemic racism and biases. They found that getting people to accept their biases and the systemic racism of the system was an incredible challenge. Confronting individuals head-on was not always effective, and so they learned how to meet each member of the community where they are, scaffolding their approach to educate people in a way that brings them along and earns their trust.

RISE’s theory of change has yielded over 60 policy changes, actions, and organizing achievements to date, including the 2017 Family-Led Resolution to Support Students Regardless of Documentation Status, and a Language Equity campaign that pushed the district to increase their translation services by 2000%. Following these accomplishments, families are empowered to follow-up with the district in order to guarantee equitable implementation of the policies they advocated for, and to be a part of the process so that they can be truly supported.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, RISE has been tapped to support a community-wide initiative that will provide food assistance to residents in need. They’ve also expanded their social service and casework capacity to help connect community members with the food, clothing, and rent assistance that is critical for many families. To ensure that they are reaching every community, they are also working to bring in additional Community Navigators who can expand their language services and support more of Aurora’s families.

For other organizations working to support and elevate the perspective of families in their community, RISE acts as a case study for how doing so effectively and equitably can impact concrete, positive change. We must embrace the mindset that families and students have some of the best ideas to combat the challenges we face, and subsequently put ego aside to create the space for them to lead. Convening families not to push an agenda or policy, but to identify their most pressing needs is a critical first step, and from there empowering them to lead the way is how movements are built.

RISE recently released a needs assessment report detailing the experiences and voices of Aurora’s families intended to generate awareness and act as a springboard towards meeting their needs. Read the report, also available in the 9 most common languages spoken in Aurora, and learn about more of their great work.

RISE Colorado works to Educate, Engage, and Empower low-income families and families of color to RISE as change agents for educational equity in our public school system. RISE Colorado is founded on the belief that families are crucial to student and school success. Through knowledge building, organizing, and leadership development, families will end educational inequity. They are active leaders who have a voice and the tools to define, demand, and lead systemic change to transform our public schools. Learn more on their website at http://www.rise-colorado.org/

We are committed to creating learning environments that equitably support every student — especially students of color and low-income students. belenetwork.org