By Cayla Conway, ESSA Stakeholder Outreach Coordinator, UnidosUS
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room,” John Monteleone, National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) fellow, shared with his nine co-fellows during their final training module in Nashville in late September. These were the very words John’s relative shared with him after his first NILSL training module back in 2015. At that time, John was questioning why he had been accepted into the group and what he would be able to add. He felt like an imposter, overwhelmed and intimidated and yet, little to his knowledge, many of his co-fellows identified with these feelings too. However, two years and seven training modules later, you would not believe that John, nor any of these leaders, ever experienced such insecurities.
NILSL modules are held throughout the fellowship in different locations across the United States. This particular cohort traveled to New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Nashville to receive trainings in leadership, communications, advocacy, and education policy. In other words, fellows learn ways to advocate for Latino students and English learners, receive updates on federal and state education policy, learn how to maximize outreach strategies using both traditional and social media to effectively communicate local and national education issues to diverse audiences, and network with fellow leaders in education. Each training is designed to prepare fellows to become stronger, better-equipped leaders and advocates for Latino students and English learners in their respective districts and states.
Their final training module took place on September 25 in Nashville. The 10 fellows traveled from their home states of Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, California, Nevada, Utah, and Illinois to present their final projects and participate in their NILSL graduation ceremony. The final projects were delivered in “Ted Talk” * format to co-fellows, UnidosUS staff, and other attendees. Fellows exuded confidence as they shared their stories, detailed their work at their individual sites during the fellowship, and outlined their plans for continuing this work moving forward. In addition to presenting their final projects and graduating from the program, fellows also received a training on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as it relates to early childhood education, and took a tour of a Pre-K school in Nashville.
In the six years that NILSL has operated, more than 50 fellows have graduated from the program. The pipeline of Latino school leaders is, indeed, solidifying as these ten engaged fellows move to alumni status and continue their advocacy work in their home states. There is no doubt that they will find the “right” rooms and bring their particular expertise and individual perspectives to the table.
“After two years, we are still hungry for change,” said fellow Myra Lopez-Zuniga. They are undeniably ready to induce this change – as fellow Dr. Dalila Duarte put it, “NILSL ready”.
*“Ted Talks” were recorded and will be available on the UnidosUS website soon.