Chamberlin Education Foundation: What was your initial reaction to the news that you had been selected for the first-ever Julie Wright Changemaker award?
Tana Monteiro: I felt honored, grateful, excited… and very excited for the opportunity to bless three organizations with some grant money! (laughs) I also just felt honored that it was in honor of Julie because she had always been such a champion of my work, and my growth and leadership. Julie always included me in everything, and really made me feel like I was valued.
When you remember Julie as a person, what comes to mind?
She was a strong person, very straightforward, and no nonsense. I really liked that. For her, it was all about kids and education, and making sure they were getting everything they needed.
How did you originally get involved in the work that you’re currently doing in West Contra Costa, and what’s kept you involved for so many years?
I went to West County schools, and I didn’t have a good experience in school growing up. There wasn’t (academic) rigor. There were only a handful of teachers that seemed to really be interested and take the time to support me.
My son was at Richmond College Prep, where I’ve (now) been working for almost 15 years. I wanted to be in (my sons’) schools, and volunteer and support them. So that’s what got me in there, being a parent volunteer. I actually realized that even though I was volunteering in the classroom, I realized I really liked working with parents. And then they hired me full-time. It became my dream job.
What are you really proud of that other people may not know much about?
One early, community-focused effort was the Literacy in the Laundromat project with West County Reads. We created ‘take-one-leave-one’ bookshelves. As a mom who went to the laundromat with the kids, (laughs) there wasn’t much for them to do, and I realized
how great that would be if there had been books there. And so, I said, “Let’s have one of the bookshelves at the laundromat.”
I’m proud that, we — Nystrom (Elementary) and Richmond College Prep and a few parents from other districts — built a new playground at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. We created summer programming there. And we’ve done that now for about five years with the City of Richmond in collaboration with WCCUSD. That was for the whole community, but we (Richmond College Prep) were the sponsor for it.
More recently, we did an African American parent dinner at our school, and some of the parents said “we want to learn Spanish.” We connected with YES Nature to Neighborhoods‘ Adult Leadership Pathway Program and offered a six-week Spanish class for our African American parents and community members. Those are a few of the things I’ve been happy to lead.
What do you want parents and students and teachers to believe is possible in the West Contra Costa Public School ecosystem?
The thing that’s popping in my head is College Is Real. I started realizing how important (early preparation) was, and that we actually were starting a little late in the game, compared to people who have already gotten their college funds together before they even have their kids. I think that we need to make sure that kids and families realize that college is real, that if that’s their dream, then go for it.
I think it would be really great if we had a lot more partnership with the community colleges for kids. I think that that would put a little more support toward what they might need (to succeed), besides an AP class, and the A through G (requirements).
Many people remember Julie’s courage and commitment in advocating for West Contra Costa kids to be able to access a high-quality education. How does courage and commitment show up in your work today?
It can get really hard. There’s different politics, of course, but there’s also just the struggles of serving kids and families that are in neighborhoods that don’t have all the access, don’t have all the resources, don’t have the money. You have to have that courage, and then just keep that passion. When you see the kids and you see the parents, they keep you filled up. They keep you motivated. They keep you inspired.
If a younger person who was involved in the education world asked you about Julie Wright, and her impact on you, or on education in this community, what would you tell them?
I would say if you can, as much as you can, whenever you can, however you can, be that unwavering voice. Julie was an unwavering voice in saying “it’s all about the kids.” What are we doing for the kids? How are kids achieving? What’s happening to make sure that they are getting everything they need, academically, and in enrichment and in joyful learning experiences? I would say, young person, whenever and however you can be that way, just do that as much as you can.
About the Chamberlin Education Foundation
The Chamberlin Education Foundation supports initiatives that advance education equity and academic excellence in West Contra Costa public schools. CEF’s grants and programs support effective education leadership, high-quality curriculum and instruction, restorative student interventions, and help create and sustain a student-centered public education ecosystem.
Click here for more about our team, our vision, and our foundation’s guiding principles.