Elisa Gonzalez is a counselor at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, CA whose leadership and passion are changing more than just the outlook of her students; she is at the epicenter of a cultural shift that is transforming the entire school community.
Elisa is in charge of Burbank’s Parent/Teacher Home Visit efforts, and during the summer of 2008 alone she coordinated over 400 successful visits between school staff and student families. In partnership with the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, a school reform model developed by PICO affiliate Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT) leaders that has spread like wildfire throughout California and beyond, Elisa has effectively adapted ACT’s model of one-to-one relationship-building to bridge the divide between a student’s home life and academic life. When parents and teachers have a chance to get to know one another in a setting that’s comfortable to the family, the student benefits by receiving increased resources and support.
During the summer of 2008, Elisa juggled the successful execution of three distinct Home Visit strategies. Her teams visited the homes of 150 students who are transitioning from 8th grade into 9th grade at Burbank. Her teams also completed over 200 Home Visits aimed at helping students pass the California High School Exit Exam (CHSEE). Last year’s effort at Burbank resulted in an 85% pass rate for this essential exam. Finally, Elisa led a Home Visit effort to visit 9th and 10th grade homes to encourage students to join afterschool leadership programs.
Abundant evidence suggests that Mrs. Gonzalez’s efforts are leading to success. For example, before CHSEE Home Visits, attendance in two 7th period support classes was anemic and struggling. Now, Burbank boasts seven full daily 7th period CHSEE classes.
When parents started flocking onto campus, saying, “Okay, you asked us to be more involved, here we are,” Elisa and her colleagues had to figure out what to do with the sudden influx of enthusiasm. She started a Parent University to train parents in many useful skills and plug them into important school roles. Last year, enrollment in the Parent University went from zero to 100 parents, and Elisa expects turnout to top 200 parents in 2009.
Years ago, in San Diego, Elisa Gonzalez worked in a government office. When her son entered the school system there, she struggled to find ways to stay involved with his academic life; the school system was an impediment to her desire to be an active parent. That’s when she started to advocate for a change in the system.
Her talents and her passion did not go unnoticed: her son’s school asked her to apply for a parent coordinator/community liaison job. She quit her government office job, moved into the school, and has not looked back.
Elisa wants to recognize the role that ACT has played in making her efforts at Luther Burbank so successful. “We couldn’t have come so far or even done the Parent University without ACT.”
She fondly remembers her introduction to ACT and community organizing. Almost four years ago her principal asked her to attend an ACT meeting with him at ACT member congregation St. Anne’s. The event was focused on tackling youth violence in the city's Meadowview neighborhood. She went to the meeting and was enthralled with the level of concern and activism that community members—neighbors—displayed.
Elisa recalls, “I wrote down my information on the sign-in sheet and I waited to get a call back. When I got the call, I was so excited.”
Elisa Gonzalez is a true hero. Her enthusiasm is contagious and the steps that she has taken to transform her community are concrete and lasting.
For more information on Sacramento Area Congregations Together and the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, visit www.sacact.org