It’s not enough for teachers to sympathize with students in urban schools; educators must stand in solidarity with them if youth are to succeed.

That’s what Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade, assistant professor of Raza Studies and Education Administration at San Francisco State University and one of the speakers at the Teacher 4 Social Justice conference held Saturday at Mission High School, told a full auditorium. The crowd of some 1,200, mostly K-12 educators  in the Bay Area, gave him a standing ovation at the end of a speech that both encouraged and offered a reality check.

“There’s a generation of teachers who see education as a pebble-less path. There’s no hope in that,” said Duncan-Andrade, who has been teaching in urban schools for 18 years. “We need teachers who are willing and able to confront trauma.”

Duncan-Andrade spoke about  the struggles confronting a large number of urban youth in poor and working-class communities, such as poverty, homelessness, gang activity and immigration raids.

Those topics were also addressed in workshops in the one-day conference.

“Schools are a reflection of our society,” said Jose Martinez, a participant. “There’s a lot in society that needs to be addressed.”

The 44-year-old graduate student at Stanford is preparing to become a teacher.

He said a lack of mentors for students in impoverished neighborhoods often hinders youths’ chances of graduating from high school, going to college and eventually earning advanced degrees.

“Many students of color don’t see teachers who look like them. And when you go up in education, it gets worse,” Martinez said.

Workshops at the conference were designed to assist teachers confront challenges that are specific to students of color, gay students, or poor students. One workshop discussed examining the plight of undocumented immigrants in high school economic classes.

“The awareness of undocumented students and immigration is important because there’s a lot of misinformation, even among educators,” said Eurania Lopez, 39, a participant.

In its ninth year, Teachers 4 Social Justice conference attracted educators from Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Oakland and San Francisco.

Itoco Garcia created Hip Hop Scholastics, a Hip Hop-based curriculum for teaching elementary school children their ABC’s, months, calendar days, and numbers. Children clap to beats of the music during the learning exercises.

“In our communities, we used songs, chants, and oral storytelling as a way to remember out people. That’s why Hip Hop works,” Garcia said.

Approximately 1,200 people—ranging from high school students and education advocates to booksellers and police-monitoring activists—attended the event, Karen Zapata, co-founder of Teachers 4 Social Justice said. Vendors set up tables, banners, posters and colorful hand-made signs along the main hallway leading to the two-story auditorium.

It was a festive atmosphere.

“Here’s a chance for the school district to capitalize on President Obama being in the White House,” said Arnold Hart, a bookseller with Ashay By The Bay, which carries African American and multi-culture children’s books.

While the novelty of having the first black president has worn off for American politicians, he said, children are still excited.

“Social justice means being open to people of every race,” said Pricilla Diaz, a 15-year-old student from Point Loma High School. “For everyone to be equal.”

Diaz said she traveled from San Diego with her mother and two other school friends.

“To have social change, we need to look at who we really are and see where we’re going,” she said.

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Rosa Ramirez grew up listening to stories about her father and uncles migrating from a small rural town in Mexico to work in the garment district in Los Angeles. Now, as a reporter for Mission Loc@l, Rosa enjoys telling the stories of immigrants from Latin America and other parts of the world who are making San Francisco their new home.
Her beat is San Francisco City College and higher education.
Before coming to UC Berkeley, Rosa worked for various news organizations across the country including Hispanic Link News Service, Birmingham Post-Herald, Rocky Mountain News and Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Rosa, who speaks Spanish and Portuguese, graduated from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

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  1. It is absurd to believe that a child can’t learn from a teacher who has a different skin color than themselves.