Picture of Latino PEMA Leaders meeting with Dr. Antonio Shelton at SAMOHI

Latino and Spanish-speaking parents looking for a place to congregate aside from traditional school groups have a new, district-recognized organization to call home:the Samohi Latino Padres, Estudiantes y Maestros Asociacion (PEMA).

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District formally recognized Samohi Latino PEMA as an independent parent group at the Thursday, September 6 board meeting.

PEMA’s mission is to “provide information and resources to Latino parents and families and to empower them to become involved in the education of their children; with the ultimate goal to have a positive outcome on Latino Student achievement at Samohi.”

The group returned to the school board agenda after having their formal recognition and adoption delayed last week due to application issues.

Having addressed application challenges with help from the district and legal counsel, the independent group is now official after unanimous approval from the school board.

“Samohi Latino PEMA would like to thank every SMMUSD board member for their unanimous approval of our application,” Dr. Berenice Onofre, founder of PEMA said in an emailed statement. “Latino PEMA looks forward to working collaboratively and in partnership with Samohi and district administration & staff to have a positive impact towards accomplishing equity in parent engagement at SMMUSD.”

The school board was enthusiastic about the approval, excited for more parent engagement.

Board member Ralph Mechur says he felt PEMA members seemed “dedicated to working with our community,” saying he hopes engagement of Latino families rises and that he hopes PEMA is a “great success.”

Maria Leon-Vasquez echoed Mechur’s sentiments, saying the group is “much-needed” in a time where the district is attempting to create more family engagement.

She questioned the group’s 501c3 designation, which Superintendent Dr. Drati said was due to the group being independent of the district, providing PEMA an option of fundraising if the group wishes to.

When reached for comment, Onofre said the group may do small fundraisers, if necessary.

While the board was warm to the adoption of PEMA, one public speaker was not.

Lupe Ibarra, Chair of the Samohi Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) and President of the District English Learners Advisory Committee (DELAC), said she felt a Latino / Spanish-speaking parent group would create division within the district and it’s Latino community.

“We have the PTSA, it’s the parent support group for all of us,” Ibarra said. “I feel like we’re separating ourselves and self-segregating. Parents need a Spanish group that they can get an education from, they don’t need a group that needs to raise funds … I don’t feel it’s needed. I feel like we’re going backwards instead of forward.”

Ibarra further added that she felt PEMA would “feed anger”, saying there are “so many things already” for parents. She said parents have asked her why PEMA formed, answering that she doesn’t know why, but that everyone should get along– at PTSA meetings.

Oscar de la Torre pressed Ibarra on her accusations of potential division.

“You’re President of DELAC, correct? Most of the members in that organization, are they Spanish-speaking? Majority of them? Is that self-segregation? Do you feel that type of organization is a problem? Do you feel the African American parent support group is also a problem?” De la Torre asked.

“No, no, no,” Ibarra said. “I feel we already have a big group with all — the PTSA. Just make it one [group] and come to the meetings. We have a lot of education workshops, all that there. Why separate ourselves? We have a PTA already for everyone. I feel we should all be one family.”

De la Torre noted there are roughly 900 Latino students in the district, “which means there must be around 1800 parents,” and a 15% drop-out rate among Latinos, making more engagement and groups necessary. He compared PEMA and the PTSA as Santa Monica and Malibu school districts, realizing they can do better work separately while working for the same goals.

Board President Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein agreed.

“We’re all committed to closing the achievement gap,” he said. “Experience isn’t all the same for Latino parents and I, too, welcome many groups. I hope people attend PEMA, other groups, and the PTA.”


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