Romanetha Looper, a Chicago mom, has always known that if parents want a better education for their children, they have to be involved in their children’s schools.
Looper was president of the PTA at her son’s school, and vice president of the local school council, but she never dreamed she would become a teacher.
“I was just very passionate about making sure that every child has what they need to have,” she said.
Then Looper learned about Illinois’ Grow Your Own Teachers, a program that sends parents and community members back to school so that they can become teachers in their own communities. The program, under the umbrella of Action Now, is designed to bring more diversity and cultural connections into the schools.
She jumped at the opportunity.
“I have always been a youth advocate,” said Looper. “I applied, and they accepted me.”
Looper completed the program in under four years.
“I was very driven and very focused. I knew this was something I needed to do,” she said.
Around the same time, her young son was having trouble in school, and Looper decided to homeschool him.
“I was not happy with what was happening with my son. He had an Individual Education Plan, and they weren’t following it to the ‘T’ at his school.
“Not that I thought I was a miracle worker or anything, but that was the whole purpose of me going back to school, to help my child,” said Looper.
She was able to help her son and realized she could help prevent other students from falling through the cracks as well.
“That’s when my passion began to grow for helping students who didn’t have someone to talk for them, didn’t have that voice or that parent who would challenge the principal or the assistant principal or teachers and let them know: ‘You aren’t giving my child what he needs.’”
With support from the Grow Your Own Teachers program, encouragement and resources, Looper graduated in 2010 at the top of her class.
“I’m teaching now in Chicago Public Schools, and I love what I do,” she said. “The parents and the students realize, and even my administrators realize, that I love what I do.”
Looper is in her second year of teaching sixth, seventh and eighth grade science and world history at William Penn Elementary school in the Lawndale neighborhood of west Chicago. The community is mostly African-American and low-income.
“I love teaching, I love what I do,” said Looper, who discovered quickly that she is more than a teacher to the students in her classes.
Children come to school hungry, they don’t have the basics they need to function. Some students are homeless, their parents evicted from their home. Others come to school ill, because their mom or dad can’t take a day off of work to stay home with a sick child without risking losing their job.
“I’m more than a teacher – I am a mom, a grandma, a nurse, a psychologist, you are doing everything just trying to get them on the playing field so they can learn,” she said.
“The reward is actual seeing the students get it, but until then, you are in the trenches,” she said. “I hope and pray that I make a difference in their lives.”
Looper has a special talent for bringing together students, parents and teachers.
“That is the ‘whole village’ mentality – and that’s where Equal Voice comes in,” said Looper, who attended the Equal Voice convening last year in Los Angeles.
“I am blown away. I see the village. I see all colors, all shapes, all sizes. We are working together for one voice,” she said.
“Equal Voice is about perseverance, which is what I feel I have done. It is all about empowerment and about being fair for everyone, from all walks of life. That is where my story connects with my passion and also with Equal Voice.”
Her own son is doing well in school, with excellent grades, working on the school newspaper and considering honors English classes.
“We need an Equal Voice in education, it is critical for everyone to have an Equal Voice in education.”
2013 © Equal Voice for America’s Families Newspaper