Rudy knows too well the climate of fear many of his students live in
When Rudy Dueñas was growing up in North East Los Angeles, fear and anxiety was a part of everyday life. He lost his brother and, later, his sister to street violence. The guidance and support he needed was not available at his school.
“No one helped me process my fear at school. We had no grief counselors,” he recalls. “My teachers were from outside the community, they were middle class. They weren’t living our reality. School was a place where we learned but we didn’t talk about real issues.”
Inspired by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the historic 1968 student protests against funding disparities in L.A. schools, Dueñas learned more about organizing and the inequities embedded in the education system. He soon aspired to be that educator who returns to his community to be an advocate for his students.
“I wanted to work with youth, and I wanted to stay within the community that I was raised in and be a teacher to these kids”.We need to have a government—it's not just the presidency, it's Congress, governors—that will stand up and speak for the people and our students. Tweet this
Now in his 19th year as a social science teacher at Woodrow Wilson High, Dueñas says schools should be a safe space for students scarred by trauma. Many of the anxieties he sees every day mirror those he experienced when he was growing up. The toxic political climate of the past few years—in which immigrants are routinely targeted and scapegoated—has “added an extra layer,” he says, making it even more essential that schools get the resources they need to help students who are struggling.
For his own students, Dueñas says a comprehensive restorative justice program would have a huge impact.
“That’s front and center for me, although restorative justice by itself is not enough. We need mental health services—more counselors, more psychologists on campus.”
A steadfast advocate of educators’ role as change agents in their communities, Dueñas was an enthusiastic participant in the historic United Teachers Los Angeles strike last January. More than 30,000 educators hit the picket lines to fight for the resources that the nearly 600,000 students across the city need.
The strike, like other #RedforEd actions across the nation, was successful. But action on the street can only go so far without action at the ballot box.
Looking forward, Dueñas says 2020 could be a pivotal year.
“There’s an urgency out there and a lot of things that need to get done. It all comes down to education. People need to be educated about the issues to make wise decisions. We need to have a government—it’s not just the presidency, it’s Congress, governors—that will stand up and speak for the people and our students.”