By: Leah Wyatt
Alejandra Diaz, who has lived in the Seattle area twelve years, first connected with Feet First at a Walking School Bus training held at Roxhill Elementary School, which Alejandra’s daughter attended at the time. Alejandra, who thought the Walking School Bus sounded like a fun idea to allow children and parents in her neighborhood to meet at a designate location and particular time and walk in together–like a yellow school bus, but with legs. So, she stepped up and volunteered as a Walking School Bus leader on Fuel Free Fridays. Alejandra felt that the Walking School Bus would be a wonderful way for Roxhill families to connect, which she says, is exactly what happened.
For the past two years, Alejandra has led a Walking School Bus and has inspired many other families to join the program as well. Alejandra says she was able to do this by being as friendly and welcoming as possible. Actively encouraging many parents to participate generated enthusiasm for the program: the parents loved the Walking School Bus experience and their children were thrilled to walk to school together. According to Alejandra this sense of community and increase in parent involvement has been wonderful for Roxhill.
Alejandra’s efforts to improve the Roxhill community extend beyond the Walking School Bus program. Through a Safe Routes to School grant supported by Feet First and providing funding and community partnerships, Alejandra became an important force within the Roxhill community. Today, Alejandra leads Roxhill’s PTSA, which is being used as a model across the city.
Alejandra’s work to support walking at Roxhill by including as many families as possible is part of a larger movement happening at the school. When Alejandra started volunteering with Roxhill’s Head Start program, when her daughter was three, she noticed parent leadership and involvement was not inclusive and lacked diversity. She then joined the school’s PSTA with the goal of including families from a variety of backgrounds and cultures; Alejandra knew that parent involvement would lead to increased student success.
Alejandra’s tireless work changed the structure of the PTSA to a system where the different cultural communities at Roxhill are actively involved in leadership. The PTSA has tripled in size and has become much more diverse; the group of participating parents reflects the many cultures represented within the school. Alejandra has served as Roxhill’s PSTA president for two years. Marquise Robinson of the White Center Community Development Association explains that Alejandra is “completely attuned to her community’s needs and knows what types of support parents require for their children to be successful.”
In order to drive positive changes in Roxhill’s community, Alejandra had to overcome both a language barrier (English isn’t her first language) and her limited understanding of the school system. To do this, Alejandra says she jumped in and started talking to parents, ignoring her fears and slowly gaining confidence. According to Alejandra, once she realized that since she was only trying to help the community, she couldn’t really go wrong. She says, “People were very open with me…they really see what we are doing.” Over her nine years of participation in Roxhill’s community, she has built a strong sense of rapport and trust with other families.
So what’s next for Alejandra? With her daughter now attending Denny Middle School, Alejandra serves as a volunteer coordinator in Denny’s PSTA. In that role, Alejandra will be able to continue to work with and support other former Roxhill parents whose children are now enrolled at Denny, boosting parent engagement at this school as well. Denny Middle School is extremely lucky to have Alejandra’s leadership.