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Banking on KC – Edgar Palacios of Latinx Education Collaborative

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Click here to listen now, or read the transcript below:

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for tuning in. Joining us on this episode is Edgar Palacios, the president and CEO of Latinx Education Collaborative. Edgar has been involved in Kansas City's nonprofit and entrepreneurial community for nearly a decade, and he's focused mostly on opening doors for minorities in business and education. Welcome.

Edgar Palacios:

Thank you, glad to be here today.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have been involved in so many organizations. I mean, I think I've known you through all of those, the Central Exchange, Blue Hills Community Services.

Edgar Palacios:

Absolutely.

Kelly Scanlon:

Connections to Success, TMC, and others too. Why did you decide now, a few years ago, to found the Latinx Education Collaborative?

Edgar Palacios:

I think at some point I was actually working on a contract with a local foundation and I had the opportunity to travel across the country and just see education, the educational community, up close. I got to travel to different schools, districts and whatnot, and time and time and again, I would be in communities where I expected to see more Latinx teachers, more Latinx administrators, and that wasn't happening. At some point I felt like I was complicit in that, I knew too much, and I felt like I had to do something about it. So I decided to launch an organization, not exactly knowing what to do. I've been in nonprofit, like you said, for close to a decade, but it's a whole different world launching a nonprofit startup. I've learned a lot along the way, but I'm still motivated by the fact that the Latino community is growing rapidly, particularly here in the Kansas City community. I'm just looking to create more representation of our community in schools.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you say that you felt complicit in that, what do you mean by that?

Edgar Palacios:

Yeah, I felt like, as a nonprofit professional, I always look for other organizations that are doing the work before I start something new. I'm not a big fan of creating duplicative services or a new nonprofit with just a little bit of a difference. I always believe that if there's an organization that's doing good work, to find it and to support it, whether it's serving on a board or making a contribution or volunteering.

Edgar Palacios:

When I was looking at addressing this issue, I looked locally for organizations that were trying to increase the pipeline of educators, particularly from the Latino community, and just didn't see any organizations working on that issue specifically. I also looked for national organizations and I found one or two that were specifically focusing on that work, but nothing here locally, right?

Kelly Scanlon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Edgar Palacios:

It just stuck with me and it was in the back of my brain, so to speak, and it was just they're gnawing at me.

Kelly Scanlon:

Sure.

Edgar Palacios:

Finally, I decided I just had to do something about it. I didn't exactly know what I would do, but decided to see if there was a community out there already that I could join. Didn't really find one, and so I was like, "Well, let's see if we can build something here."

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah.

Edgar Palacios:

Yeah, I feel like when you know better, you do better. So that was just an issue that on my mind and continues to be on my mind. Although, I think that we've built an organization that's starting to change and create some impact around that space.

Kelly Scanlon:

Why the term Latinx?

Edgar Palacios:

That's a great question, and it's a question, as a leader, that I think about today to this point. Latinx is a term that arrived in into the scene roughly like 2004 and it was brought in by communities that were interested in making the Latino term gender neutral. I actually saw it as an opportunity to highlight the diversity of our community. I think that that X, to me, represents that 32 or 33 different Latin American countries, all of those cultures, all of those backgrounds, and just the diversity in our community. That's why I like it. It also allows us to talk about these issues and raise the voices of those that are often underrepresented within our own community, indigenous folks, Afro Latinx folks. It's a term that we chose as an organization to lead in a space of equity and social justice.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you talked about you had this awareness and you saw this need, why is it so important to have Latino teachers in the classroom? I know you've got a lot of stats that support this mission.

Edgar Palacios:

I do. First and foremost, I think the simplest reason is if you can see it, you can be it, and so-

Kelly Scanlon:

So the role model.

Edgar Palacios:

Right, exactly. If we're talking about leadership opportunities, I think a lot about where in our community are Latinos situated in positions of influence and power. I don't see a lot of that. Not to say that it doesn't exist, I just don't see it approximate to the current statistics that are in Kansas City, to those numbers.

Edgar Palacios:

I think about leadership starting in kindergarten, I think about leadership starting in pre-K. For me, it's important that students have access to teachers that look like them because the data suggests that they have better educational outcomes long term, which to me means better opportunities long term as well, and a better opportunity to become an influential leader and be in those spaces.

Edgar Palacios:

Also important is that, nationally, one out of every four students, or 25% of students, identify as Latinx and that number is expected to be one of the three within the next 10 or 15 years. On a national level, only 8% of educators identify as Latinx and that number-

Kelly Scanlon:

Big gap, yeah.

Edgar Palacios:

Yeah, huge gap and it's stagnant. We're also seeing that a lot of our Latino teachers ... By the way, I interchange between Latino and Latinx. We're seeing that a lot of our Latino teachers actually leave the profession at the highest rates as well, and so we have a retention issue in the community as well. We have to work on some of those issues and we have to make sure that the education field is welcoming, it's inclusive, and that we address a lot of the systemic inequities within it to make sure that our educators are happy and are able to lead good lives from the work that they do.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. I think those numbers, there's an even wider gap locally, isn't there?

Edgar Palacios:

Absolutely. This is some data from Set the Schools Free, I think Rebecca Haessig writes the blog. It looks like in the Kansas City public school district within itself, that it also includes 23, 24 charters in the boundaries, only 5% of teachers identify as Latinx. I mean, that number has stayed within that 10 percentage points for the last decade. Within the boundaries, we're at 28% Latino students, and so a gap right there. Across state line in Kansas City, Kansas, you're looking at a 52% Latino student population as well, and roughly maybe four to 5% Latino teachers. That gap is huge here, and I think it exemplifies a lot of the stuff that we see within the Midwest.

Kelly Scanlon:

How do you achieve your mission? What kind of programs do you have? What kind of outreach do you do?

Edgar Palacios:

Our theory of change is really built around three strategic objectives, the first being the retention and the building of a community. A lot of our educators feel isolated. That is one of the top three reasons that comes up for why they leave the profession. We want to make sure that they feel like they belong to a larger community, that they feel like they're part of a bigger group of people so they can share resources, commiserate, build relationships, and feel like these issues are not just theirs, but it's an issue of a community altogether. We find that by building community, you see a lot of people just, I don't know, feel revived, re-energized, ready to get back to work, so to speak.

Kelly Scanlon:

They're not in this alone, yeah.

Edgar Palacios:

Right, exactly. There's a lot of healing that comes from that process.

Edgar Palacios:

Our second strategic objective is what we call pathway exposure. We're targeting actually sixth graders. We try to partner with school districts and schools that are heavily Latinx And then we go in and talk about becoming a teacher, what that looks like. We actually developed a two-week design thinking experience where the content is based around design thinking principles, but we also talk about becoming an educator, what that looks like, and reminding folks that they can actually use these skills as educators or as principals or as building administrators.

Edgar Palacios:

Our third strategic objective is really around what we call recruitment support. There are a lot of organizations within Kansas City that really work on increasing the number of teachers, period, regardless of ethnicity or race. We want to make sure that our community is aware of those opportunities and better translating those needs and making sure that our community is aware of what those opportunities are.

Edgar Palacios:

Those are our three strategic objectives. We think that when it all works together, we're building a strong community of effective Latinx education professionals.

Kelly Scanlon:

I saw too, that advocacy is one of your principles, one of the platforms. Is that tied into that last principle that you talked about?

Edgar Palacios:

It is. I think advocacy, it actually lives within the entire organization. To that point, building awareness, I don't think a lot of people think about diversity issues within education, outside of the education space. For us, it's really about bringing awareness to the demographics, to talk about what the issues are, the issues that are facing the Latinx community within the field of education, within that space. It's also about learning what our community's needs and wants are, and helping support them in their own advocacy efforts as well. How do we send them back into buildings to ask for what they want and what they need? How do we build those relationships across districts to make sure that our community's voices are being heard? Advocacy is definitely a part of the process, and I think it's built in within each of our objectives.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you talk about community wide, define community for me. Are you talking about community wide within the Latino community or the Latinx community, or are you talking about all of Kansas City being a part of the solution here?

Edgar Palacios:

I appreciate that and I think community can definitely mean different things to different people. I think it's concentric, right? I think, one, we're focusing on a community of Latinx education professionals. That's who we serve and that is who we're built for and that's who we're informed by. But also, we can't negate the fact that we also live in a broader community in Kansas City. These issues are our Kansas City issues as well. Our Latino population is growing within the community. We don't see a lot of representation in political offices, we don't see a lot of representation in the spaces of CEOs running companies here. We see a lot of small business, which is great and fantastic, but also we look at influence, we just don't see that level of representation that's there. We're hoping that by addressing education specifically, we can also broaden the conversation around what does representation look like for our community in other areas, because we are a part of the Kansas City community and we have been for quite a while.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you talked earlier about the grade schoolers seeing people like themselves and that leadership and that mentoring, that's just step one. You're talking about a longer-term result. What kind of impact have you seen so far? It's still, as we both discussed, a very young organization, but you've had some impact. Tell us about some of that.

Edgar Palacios:

I think one of my favorite stories to share is we host an annual conference called Evolution, or Evolution, for Latinx educators and friends. The first year that we did it, we had roughly like 40 attendees that showed up for a five-hour session on a Saturday. Last year when we hosted it in October, we had over 220 Latinx educators show up, and friends, and by what I mean friends is people who are not Latinx in the community. To see a five fold increase in attendance was amazing.

Kelly Scanlon:

That is incredible.

Edgar Palacios:

Yeah, it was fantastic. To see them stay for the full five-hour session on the Saturday in the morning was even better, right? That means that the content was good, it means that they were building relationships, it means that they were engaged. We're actually hosting our third conference year, virtually because of COVID, but already we're seeing folks from across the country just register for the sessions. I'm excited to just see what the new virtual space, what kind of doors it will open for us in terms of building our brand awareness, our mission, and seeing how many other educators we can support both locally and across the country.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you look back in 10 years, what do you want to be able to say about the impact of the Latinx Education Collaborative here in Kansas City?

Edgar Palacios:

That's a fantastic question. I think there's a lot of different things that I would love to see, but I think at that point, 10 years from now, I would love to see some students that have been impacted by our work moving forward in their professional careers as educators. I would love to see a world where there are people who can name the LEC as an organization that was meaningful to them along their professional journey. I definitely would love to see us lead some of these conversations around race and equity in our community and helping support and sustain the good work that's being done here. That's three of many, but definitely seeing our youth today becoming teachers and being excited about becoming educators, that would be fantastic.

Kelly Scanlon:

This is a community-wide effort, and as you say, it benefits everyone in the community. If there's people who are listening who would like to get involved, do you work with volunteers? Are there ways that our listeners today could get involved in the work that you're doing?

Edgar Palacios:

Absolutely. I always welcome folks to engage with us on our website, Latinxedco.org. That's L-A-T-I-N-X-E-D-C-O.org. You'll see upcoming programs, upcoming events. My contact information is also there, so feel free to reach out to me. Then following us on social media and ensuring our events and sharing our content is always great. You can find us on most platforms @LatinxEdCo, That's the way I would love for folks to engage with us. Always happy to have a conversation and always willing to see how we can partner.

Kelly Scanlon:

Edgar, thank you so much for the work you have done over the last decade. Like I said, you have been involved in so many different nonprofits and causes that have had a real impact here in Kansas City, and now as you continue that with the Latinx Education Collaborative.

Edgar Palacios:

I just appreciate the opportunity. I'm a big fan of Kansas City, I've been here for 16 years. It's been a phenomenal community for me and I'm looking forward to supporting its growth for years to come. Thank you for the opportunity.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you, Edgar Palacios, for joining us this week to share the mission to build a community of Latinx education professionals and give Latino students classroom role models. As Edgar noted, when students have access to teachers who look like them, they have better educational outcomes longterm, which leads to better opportunities longterm, including the opportunity to become influential leaders.

Joe Close:

Country Club Bank believes that diversity, inclusion, and access to opportunity are all keys to thriving, vibrant communities. When we build up one community, we raise up the broader community of Kansas City. Thanks for tuning in this week. We are banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.