“Never Too Old or Too Young to Learn” — Wendy Gonzales-Neal of My Child My Voice

supporting parents as advocates for their children's educations

From time to time, when I would set up at events to represent My Child My Voice, a parent would ask me, “Did you go to college to learn all this school information?” I would respond by saying, “No, I don’t have a college degree but I’m an everyday parent like you who took two steps forward by asking questions and attending parent sessions—like you are today—to learn how to advocate for my kids.” This is where my advocacy journey begins—by helping spread the knowledge to families when it comes to their children’s education and learning about other school options. This is where my name became the “Education Mom.”

My Parents Taught Me to Advocate for Myself

I grew up in the Southside of Houston, a Hispanic girl whose dream of becoming a teacher became a reality by becoming a parent/teacher. My story started with some V.I.P.’s (Very Important Parents)—my parents. My father used to say, “One is never too old or too young to learn.” My father’s education went as far as a two-year college education, and my mother had a high school degree, yet they were always involved parents when it came to my and my sister’s education. They were involved in my education—knowing my teachers, school counselors, and even the principal on a first name basis. They always checked in with my teachers and watched my grades like a hawk.

My parents put my education first by asking me questions about school, and they supported me by finding resources for me when I needed help. They knew when I needed more support and one-on-one instruction. In high school, my parents noticed when I started struggling in school—not just my grades were slipping, but my confidence faltered. You see, I was being bullied by staff members at my school. I remember many times my mom and dad would argue with my counselors to switch my classes to intermediate classes. They also teamed up with an assistant principal to help me with the bullying. My father was furious to find out I was not the only one being bullied, but also other Latinos in my school.

I love that my parents taught me that we must speak up. At the end, I went from being a failing student to passing grades and being a confident teenager. I learned about myself: it wasn’t that I had a weakness, I just learned differently, and I needed to speak up for myself. Then my confidence kicked in, and I became a mentor for other students at my school.

School Choice Became an Important Issue for Me When I Became a Mother

When I became a mother, I made sure that what my parents did for me, I did for my own kids when it came to their education.

Back when my son, Josua, was in middle school, I noticed he was getting in trouble in his classes. I knew it was more than just being a chatter box. My husband and I started getting calls from the school about Josua disrupting his class. Because he was finishing his work early and getting bored, he often landed in trouble for talking. We soon realized his school was not working for him and we had to find a more challenging school where he would thrive.

But where we live there were only two choices—private schools and traditional public schools. We did not have the means to place Josua in a private school or to move our family to another school district. Friends and family told us about charter schools. At the time, we did not understand much about what a charter school was, but we heard they were challenging students and sending them to college. We knew we wanted that for Josua.

We applied to a public charter school and we were blessed that Josua was accepted. It was a challenge to drive far to send Josua to the public charter school across town, but it was worth it. We were willing to make the sacrifice for his education.

Josua thrived at the public charter school. I remember him telling me, “Mom, I don’t want to join the soccer team because I want to concentrate on my studies.” I cried—what parent could ask more of their child? My empowerment didn’t stop with my son, however. I also supported my niece with dyslexia, learning about identifying her challenges, our rights with IEPs, and education laws.

In 2018, my son Josua graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering. He is our family’s first college graduate. But that only happened because our family found a charter school that changed his life and parents who stayed engaged with his school.

Wendy Gonzales-Neal with Troy and Joshua at graduation Iowa State

Why I Advocate for All Kids

My son, Josua, was not the only one who thrived at a new type of school. It’s where I thrived and found my voice: from learning about school finance and education policy, to school options and becoming a parent teacher, I learned to show parents to speak up when it comes to our kids’ education. I knew I had to spread the knowledge.

My weekly coffee chats became monthly community parent sessions on topics like Texas school ratings, school finance, understanding school boards, knowing education options in Houston, and uplifting parents’ voices in op-ed pieces in support of education bills. Most importantly, I helped parents to guide other parents in this movement. My family’s journey has shown me just how important education options are in Houston. This is the reason why I started My Child My Voice, a nonprofit parent organization established to educate, motivate, guide, and support parents, caregivers, immigrant families, and refugee families to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to be able to actively participate in the education of their children and have a voice on issues facing their community. Please follow My Child My Voice on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

I love showing parents how to be better education consumers, discussing school options from traditional schools to public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, Montessori schools, homeschool, and virtual schools. I love engaging parents in the community by celebrating National School Choice Week and being excited with the school choice they made for their child. Most importantly, I love providing the tools and resources to parents to help them advocate for their children.

What I love the most about this work is seeing parents thrive like I did when it comes to advocating for their kids. I remember meeting a mom at a school fair and telling her she has a powerful story, and her story can motivate other parents to tell their story and to get the attention of elected officials. Since then, she has testified in support of education bills, engaged with other parents to write letters to their elected officials, and served as a public speaker for school choice, dyslexia awareness, and parent advocacy.

My education advocacy was inspired by my son. Today, I am passionate about supporting all children because parents are the most powerful advocates for their children. I’m fighting for more kids like my son to have a chance to a high-quality education.

This work I’m doing here in Houston is growing and is now growing bigger knowing there is a national organization for parents, the National Parents Union. I will be back to talk more about the National Parents Union, but for now I encourage you to follow them on social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn—and consider applying for membership. The work I’m doing here in Houston is not different then the work at National Parents Union. It’s taking it to a higher level. Our work is about putting our kids first.

My Advice to Parents

I believe a parent voice occurs when parents are present, active, and an equal part of the decision making processes.

We must continue this work, to encourages families no matter what language you speak, no matter the color of your skin, no matter your zip code you live in. ALL our CHILDREN have a RIGHT to receive an equitable education.

Parents, don’t be silent, speak up and be active in education conversations. We need to welcome, not fear, parental power now, for the good of our children, for whom the system was to have been designed and has been failing for too long. Remember the KEY is to Keep Educating Yourself! As my dad said, we are “never too old or too young to learn.”

Wendy Gonzales-Neal Founder and Executive Director My Child My Voice

Charter Moms Chats

Watch Wendy Gonzales-Neal, Founder and Executive Director of My Child My Voice and a Texas delegate for the National Parents Union, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on December 16, 2020 at 4 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

Wendy Gonzales-Neal is the Founder and Executive Director of My Child My Voice and a Texas delegate for the National Parents Union. As a parent and community advocate, she help parents become informed advocates for their own children’s education and take that passion for school choice to their communities where they empower their neighbors, schools and lawmakers. She began her career in the corporate world as a project manager and executive assistant and found her way into public education almost a decade ago supporting the work of YES Prep Public School’s alternative teacher certification program and college initiatives team. During her tenure at YES, she had the opportunity to hone her skills as a project manager and senior administrative assistant, but where she found the most energy and joy was when it came to supporting families and communities. Fueled by her love of family engagement, she transitioned to Families Empowered, working to organize parents, influence policy, and engage families across the state of Texas. In 2018, she launched My Child My Voice to continue serving as a change agent for students and families in Texas. In early 2020, she participated in the first convening of the National Parents Union and became a Texas delegate.

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