UCLA Labor Center

Our Children Deserve a Fair Chance

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Janna Shadduck-Hernández, EdD shared her thoughts about the Los Angeles Parent Worker Project as this program launched a new video documenting the different stakeholders, workshops, and community outings the project brings together in an effort to increase early childhood engagement. 

For the past fifteen years, I have investigated early education and its impact on low-wage families so when I consider the recent historic election, I had hoped that early education would receive greater national attention. As an educator, mother, and scholar concerned with the challenges working people face in the United States, I am troubled that the essential issue of educating disenfranchised and vulnerable communities will fail to be a priority for the incoming administration. High quality, affordable education and childcare are issues that affect millions of Americans. Access to quality education ensures that parents can stay in the workforce, improves child outcomes, and helps employers keep talented, productive workers who are contributing to the economy. But what about immigrant parents who work the night shift or who work long hours or two jobs to make ends meet? What support do they have to become engaged in their children’s education?

In collaboration with Building Skills Partnership (BSP), the UCLA Labor Center has pioneered a transformative parent engagement project in Los Angeles called the Parent Worker Project. The project emerged from participatory research with janitors, a vital workforce that keeps LA’s buildings clean and safe. These janitors, mostly immigrant workers, identified educational access as a priority for their children and communities. The Parent Worker Project collaborates with janitor union members from SEIU-United Service Workers West to expand parents’ leadership skills to become advocates for their children’s education. Janitor parents and their young children participate in workshops, field trips, and cultural activities at schools, in the community, at the worksite, and in the union hall.

Despite their job challenges, janitor parents, like all parents, want to help their children succeed in school. That’s why the UCLA Labor Center and Building Skills Partnership stepped in to develop the first program of its kind to address parent education in the workplace. With the support of the janitors’ employers, their union, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Parent Worker Project has created a transformative parent engagement model where family, schools, employers, and community members collectively support student learning and achievement. Especially in the current political environment, this a model that employers, schools, and unions should embrace. Our country and all of our children deserve a fair chance. 

Janna Shadduck-Hernández, EdD, is a Project Director at the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education and teaches in UCLA’s Labor and Workplace Studies Minor. Shadduck-Hernández’s research has focused on developing culturally relevant, participatory educational models with 1st and 2nd generation university students, community members, and youth.