Last week, Drs. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and Erica Fernández, two EDLR faculty members who are connected with UConn’s El Foco research community, organized and supported Dr. Gilda Laura Ochoa, the featured guest speaker who joined UConn’s faculty, staff and students for an engaging discussion on education, during the annual plática. The event pushed participants to identify power, privilege and silences within the classroom and encouraged students to be successful while and reminding teachers to be mindful.
“Engaged scholarship, as I conceptualize it, takes time and dedication. It is about building relationships and confianza (trust) with community members. It is about working in solidarity alongside community embers. It is about co-constructing knowledge with communities. It is about viewing scholarship as an act of resistance,” describes Dr. Erica Fernández on the challenge of using scholarship as a form of engagement. A challenge, that Dr. Fernández demonstrates a strong commitment to—promoting school justice and equity through her research.
One of her current research projects, in collaboration with Dr. Michele Femc-Bagwell, employs photovoice to understand the parental engagement experiences of Parents of Color, specifically undocumented Latinx immigrant parents, in urban schools in Connecticut. Photovoice is a qualitative research method in which community participants use pictures to identify and represent issues that are important to them. Dr. Fernández and Dr. Femc-Bagwell provided access to cameras for the parents in the study to capture visual representations of how they conceptualize acts of parental engagement in their kids’ schools. The research is currently established in two urban schools in the state with plans to expand. They are also planning on integrating teacher and administrator perceptions of parental engagement to form a comprehensive narrative analysis.
Dr. Fernández’s work goes beyond the traditional role of a researcher as she engages and works alongside Parents of Color. She does not just “study” Parents of Color, she works directly with them to make research decisions including design, analysis and the presentation of findings. Through this process, she is able to give study participants a role in the co-construction of knowledge and a voice in the issues directly affecting them.
“By centering the schooling engagement experiences of People and Communities of Color, I provide counternarratives that disrupt and refute harmful deficit ideologies that perpetuate inequities in and around schools.”
– Dr. Fernández on her goals of fighting systematic oppression and furthering educational equity through research
This work is particularly meaningful for Dr. Fernández as her parents were undocumented Mexican immigrants. This personal connection to her work has served as a source of motivation and inspiration, driving her to empower and broaden opportunities for Spanish-speaking Latinx immigrant parents through her research. However, her motivation for this area of research is not only because it is familiar, but also because the experiences of undocumented Latinx immigrant parents are historically underreported in academic literature. By amplifying their narratives, she is able to humanize their existence and advocate on their behalf – demonstrating a steadfast commitment to social justice in the face of current anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.
Over the past eight years, Dr. Fernández has added to larger conversations surrounding educational equity, presenting her work at conferences such as the University Council of Educational Administrators (UCEA), the American Education Research Association (AERA), and the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA) conference. However, with her current research, she is taking engagement to the next level as she presented alongside some of the undocumented Latinx parents that she has worked with at a national conference. By engaging with Parents of Color, she is able to leverage resources to parents, giving them a channel in which to tell their story and influence policymakers. Community-engaged research is not only disrupting traditional notions of scholarship, its authenticity is inspirational. The Department of Educational Leadership is incredibly grateful to have faculty like Dr. Fernández, who show an immense passion and dedication to their work and the communities that their work serves.
Pauline Batista is a first year doctoral student in the Learning, Leadership and Education Policy program in the Department of Educational Leadership. Her current work goes beyond country borders while challenging the traditional approach to research, as she incorporates film directed by student responses into her final product.
Batista’s research focuses on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s power over Educational Policy & Curriculum in Latin American (Traditional) Communities that have obtained UNESCO's Heritage Site titles. The methodology for this data collection draws from yPAR (Youth Participatory Research) and other participatory research methodologies, in which the objective is to center students as co-researchers during the data collection process. In this way she is empowering students in this community to speak out about their educational experiences and capture the attention of policymakers through film and digital media.
Batista has recently returned from a self-funded, pre-research trip in Brazil where she established connections and gathered information for the basis of her research. She will be returning to South America this summer to design a Participatory Video Initiative at previously selected schools, with the help of El Instituto’s Predoctoral Fellowship and the Tinker Fellowship. This Participatory Video initiative will entail a two week-long filmmaking workshop in which student-learners will be offered basic film making lessons, discuss what they believe are relevant issues for their communities by engaging in various activities, and gain experience by documenting key concepts, directly from the field. Rooted in Paulo Freire’s participatory action framework, the goal of this initiative is to capture the attention of local policymakers by showcasing the students’ ideas and critiques of their schoolwork under UNESCO’s influence, using short films.
This trip will include schools in Cartagena, Colombia and Paraty, Brazil where Batista is originally from. Batista is humbled and motivated by the opportunity for her work to impact her own community as she explains,
“It is rather different when you go back to your community as a scholar with a purpose. I had to be very careful and very open to hear from the community, because I believe that this is part of my duty as I was given the privilege of being educated.”
During her initial trip this past winter, Batista met with students who, in her words, "run schools." These students had a mature understanding of the oppression the education system possesses and how the system was not designed for them. This perspective fostered incredible conversations with the students’ ideas surrounding what their education should look like. “I have been learning that schooling demands are changing, but oppression remains, therefore as educators our work must serve as a medium of expression for these communities,” explains Batista on her takeaways thus far from this unique research endeavor.
Batista's passion was ignited during her studies at the University of Connecticut’s El Instituto where she achieved an M.A. in International Studies (Latino & Latin American Studies). The theoretical body of work that she was exposed to during her studies motivated her to become an educational advocate for her own community as well as others in South America. For this reason, she decided to focus her research on communities with Educational Policies that are not necessarily reflective of the communities' desires and needs as she entered the Learning, Leadership and Educational Policy Program at the University of Connecticut.
Batista currently studies under Dr. Erica Fernández and Dr. Kimberly LeChasseur serves as her Graduate Assistantship manager. She thanks EDLR’s incredible faculty for introducing her to new ideas and perspectives, which have broadened her perception of the world and how the educational model of the U.S. has been influencing Latin American communities. The knowledge she is continuously building in her work with EDLR mentors drives Batista, and she is honored to share that with the communities she is working in.
Batista plans on traveling to Brazil on July 17, 2018 and to Colombia on August 1, 2018 to host the Participatory Video Initiatives for students. The Department of Educational Leadership looks forward to watching Batista’s research develop further and for the premier of the films on Vimeo when the project is complete. This is only the beginning of Batista’s journey and she hopes to expand her research efforts so that it is applicable and relevant to communities across South America.
Sage Journals (Erica Fernández co-published “Organizational Politics of Parental Engagement: The Intersections of School Reform, Anti-Immigration Policies, and Latinx Parent Organizing” in the July issue of Educational Policy)