Laura Galvan wants her two boys to fall in love with education. “It’s one of the foundations to grow as a person,” says Laura, who immigrated to Springdale, Arkansas, from Mexico with her family in 2004.
But as her oldest approached middle school, Laura and her husband felt unprepared to find their way through an unfamiliar educational landscape. “I didn’t realize that my son didn’t necessarily have to attend the school assigned to where we live, or that I could look for a school that fits his interests,” says Laura.
Enter RootED NWA.
Through a Facebook post, Laura linked up with the organization, which launched in 2017 with support from the Walton Family Foundation. Their mission? To organize, motivate and educate all parents on educational options available in Northwest Arkansas. Currently, RootED serves as the only resource of its kind in Benton and Washington counties.
In addition to traditional district schools, education options like public charters, schools of innovation, private schools and Montessori are expanding in the region. Yet diverse enrollment at these institutions has lagged despite Northwest Arkansas’ sizable and growing Latinx and Marshallese communities.
Navigating the educational landscape can be a complicated endeavor for many families, but particularly for communities of color that may be dealing with additional language, resource and cultural barriers.
With assistance from RootED, Laura’s son Cruz, 13, was accepted to Thaden School’s incoming eighth-grade class and will begin this fall. He is excited for this new chapter at a school that makes him “feel wanted and important … a place where I feel like I can speak up,” says Cruz, who dreams of going to college, becoming an architect and helping his family fulfill their goal of starting a construction business.
Judith Yanez, executive director of RootED, says Laura’s story is familiar, which is what inspired her to found the organization. The daughter of Mexican immigrants who moved to Springdale in the 1990s, Judith was one of just 10 Hispanic students in her graduating at Springdale High School. Now, the school is 48% Hispanic in a region rich with diversity—in both residents and educational options.
When Judith began exploring schools for her own children, she soon realized the choices were overwhelming and information scarce.
“I was a single mom with two kids, determined to get them to college,” says Judith. “But I hadn’t gone to college myself. What I found was most parents are only able to conceive of options for their kids through the lens of their own social network and level of education.”
Determined to break out of this cycle, Judith put herself through college, earned a master’s degree and began her career as a teacher. In her own classroom, Judith saw parents struggling to make the best choices for their kids.
Now, with a fully bilingual staff of first-generation college graduates, Judith and her team have set out across the region, hosting school tours and informational sessions and providing one-on-one counseling to parents. Support ranges from help with school applications and registration to procuring uniforms or driving parents and children to school interviews. It also entails dispelling stereotypes.
“We had one family where the son and mother were eager to apply, but the father was holding back. He felt that if they sent their child to an independent school, people would think they were rich,” says Judith. “We worked with the family to overcome some of these more ingrained cultural attitudes.”
Word-of-mouth interest in their programming has been strong, and “mom’s groups” have begun to spring up leading more people to RootED. Laura has become an advocate herself, spreading the word to neighbors and friends. “I want the experience that we had to extend to all families who are looking for a better future for their children,” she says.