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Riverside County Office of Education and Cesar Chavez Foundation Strengthens Students’ Literacy Skills and Social-Emotional Health

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Students from Coachella Valley and Palm Springs Unified School Districts, as well as the Riverside County Migrant Education Program participate in the Expanded Digital Learning Summer Program

RIVERSIDE – After almost 15 months of adapting to distance learning due to the pandemic, 500 Riverside County students are preparing to transition back to the classroom by focusing on literacy skills and their social-emotional health. Through a new partnership between the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE) and the Cesar Chavez Foundation, students will become better readers, and be emotionally prepared for the start of the 2021-22 school year.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with the Cesar Chavez foundation on this powerful digital learning program that enhances literacy,” commented Dr. Edwin Gomez, Riverside County Superintendent of Schools. “One of my four initiatives is, Literacy by Fifth Grade, and I know we have students whose learning was deeply impacted by the pandemic. This program will help ensure students are better prepared for the start of the school year, through this engaging curriculum developed by the Cesar Chavez Foundation.”

The two-week program, designed by the Cesar Chavez Foundation is focused on helping 500 students become better readers by having access to personalized and adaptive reading digital instruction through i-Ready. In addition, the Expanded Digital Learning Summer Program takes a holistic approach to students’ growth by implementing social emotional strategies that align to Cesar Chavez’ core values such as, Si Se Puede! Culturally competent teachers teach these lessons using culturally relevant books and program supplies, that have also been provided to all students through a literacy backpack.

“Our work is anchored in Cesar Chavez’s deep belief that, ’You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride,’” said Dr. Celia Garcia Alvarado, Executive Vice President of Education for the Cesar Chavez Foundation. “Now more than ever, students living in working communities need culturally responsive programs that educate both their hearts and minds, and we are very grateful for the opportunity to pilot our program with the Riverside County of Education to support their Literacy by Fifth Grade Initiative.”

A smaller cohort session of 80 students began the program on June 16th, with the first session concluding on June 29th. In this initial group, students participated from across the county as far away as Palo Verde to Perris Elementary School District. Angelica Cazares, Director of Education for the Cesar Chavez Foundation said, “We have seen students engaged and enthusiastic with the program, due to the curriculum content being culturally relevant.” In addition, students and teachers have formed strong bonds resulting in a high attendance rate.

A second session of 420 students will participate from July 7th – 20th in the program. All students are attending the program free of charge. Students’ outcomes and reading data will be shared with participating districts at the conclusion of the program. With the success of the Expanded Digital Learning Summer Program, both organizations hope to continue and expand on these efforts to support literacy in Riverside County.

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The Riverside County Office of Education is a service agency supporting the county’s 23 school districts that serve 430,000 students—more than the student population of 17 states. RCOE services include administrative support to districts, programs for preschool, special education, pregnant minor, correctional, migrant, and vocational students. In addition, the organization provides professional training, support, and resources for more than 18,000 teachers, administrators, and staff throughout the 7,000 square miles of Riverside County.

The Cesar Chavez Foundation is a social enterprise that inspires and transforms communities by providing critical services that address the needs of Latinos and working families: it has built or renovated and manages more than 5,000 units of high-quality affordable housing with amenities including afterschool programs for children and senior services; operates an eight-station Spanish and English-language radio network with 1.5 million daily listeners; develops and provides culturally responsive, diverse products and services to students in under-resourced communities, and operates the National Chavez Center which preserves and promotes the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

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Cesar Chavez’s legacy lives on in Biden’s staff, Oval Office

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by: Darlene Superville, Associated Press

published by KGET on Jun 27, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Barack Obama flew to California to dedicate a national monument to Latino labor leader Cesar Chaveznearly a decade ago, a group of the activist’s relatives were invited to pose for photos with the president.

Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Chavez’s granddaughter, hung back. As a member of Obama’s staff, she had traveled with the official party to the event, but did not want to call attention to herself.

Only when Obama’s senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, insisted did Rodriguez reluctantly step forward, barely making it into the frame.

“I said, ‘Julie, you have to be up there with your family,’” said Jarrett, who was Rodriguez’s boss in the White House Office of Public Engagement. “And she said, ‘No, I’m staff today.’”

White House staffers are often of a type, hard-charging strivers who crave their own sliver of the limelight or even trade on a famous name. Rodriguez is a clear exception as she begins a second tour serving a president, this time as director of intergovernmental affairs for Joe Biden.

Rodriguez and her staff help state, local and tribal governments, and Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories, with their federal government needs. Lately, that has centered on combating COVID-19 and distributing aid from the $1.9 trillion in Biden’s coronavirus relief plan.

Jarrett and others who have worked with Rodriguez describe a dedicated worker who, while shaped by a famous progenitor, doesn’t put her family front and center.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently name-checked “Julie Rodriguez” at a press briefing — dropping “Chavez” in keeping with Rodriguez’s preference.

Cecilia Munoz, who led the intergovernmental affairs office for five years under Obama, said Rodriguez has the job now because she is “Julie” — not because she is a Chavez.

“Being a Chavez is part of who she is,” Munoz said, “but she’s there because she is so skilled and has such deep integrity.”

And because Biden wanted her on his team.

Rodriguez is among a group of Latinas serving in the White House and advising Biden on matters ranging from communications to policy. Latino advocates had accused Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign of not doing enough to reach out to these voters.

CHAVEZ INFLUENCE

New presidents always freshen up the look of the Oval Office, both to reflect their personal tastes or send broader messages about their values and what inspires them.

Biden’s updates for a time included placing a bronze bust of Chavez among family photographs on a desk directly behind his own, giving the late labor leader’s likeness prominent placement any time Biden was seen at his desk. The bust is now on a pedestal elsewhere in the Oval Office.

Rodriguez was overwhelmed the first time she saw the bust of her “Tata” in the Oval Office. Her grandfather is a hero to her, someone she hoped to emulate, she said in an interview. Rodriguez described the “profound sense of pride” she felt in knowing that “the contributions that our community has made are being recognized in the most powerful room in the world.”

Biden supported her grandfather’s cause of improving conditions for migrant farm workers, Rodriguez said, and both men were influenced by their Roman Catholic faith and its teachings.

“I think there’s that sort of shared history and shared … support for the cause that he was leading,” Rodriguez said of Biden.

The Biden family’s admiration for Chavez and his legacy also is shared by the first lady.

Jill Biden flew to California earlier this year for the March 31 commemoration of Chavez’s birth. She visited the Forty Acres property near the city of Delano, the first permanent headquarters for the United Farm Workers union.

A national historic landmark, the location is where Chavez conducted two lengthy fasts — 25 days in 1968 for nonviolence and 36 days in 1988 over the threat of pesticides. It’s also where thousands of farm workers received COVID-19 vaccinations this year.

CALIFORNIA ROOTS

Rodriguez, 43, was born in Delano to Chavez’s daughter, Linda, and her husband, Arturo Rodriguez. Her grandparents, Cesar and Helen Chavez, volunteered full time for the United Farm Workers of America organization, and Rodriguez often went to labor rallies with both couples and helped them with community outreach.

She grew up in the farm worker movement and was active in campaigns, picket lines, boycotts, marches and union meetings, said Paul Chavez, Rodriguez’s uncle.

He recalled how she would hop off the bus when she got home from elementary school and pop into the offices to see what was going on and offer to help. She was engaging and inquisitive, with a level of maturity beyond her years, he said.

“She knew how to talk to older folks and kids her age,” Paul Chavez said.

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2000 with a degree in Latin American studies, Rodriguez worked at the foundation named for her grandfather before she became a volunteer on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in Colorado.

She was at the Interior Department working on a youth initiative when Jarrett recruited her to work on immigration and Latino outreach at the White House.

Jarrett said she wanted Rodriguez on her team because of her “extraordinary reputation for excellence, hard work, competency” and “focusing not on herself, but on how we could engage as many voices” as possible.

Rodriguez later became Jarrett’s deputy and her portfolio grew to include outreach to veterans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and gun violence prevention groups.

Shortly before Obama’s term ended in January 2017, Rodriguez was named state director for then-Sen. Kamala Harris of California. Rodriguez later joined Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign as a political director and traveling chief of staff.

Rodriguez joined Biden’s campaign to help oversee Latino outreach after Harris dropped out. After Biden was elected, he named her to lead the office of intergovernmental affairs.

Her uncle said Rodriguez’s standing with the president is an encouraging message for young people of color.

“Her presence and her being is a very powerful thing for people that haven’t had a lot of opportunities, and especially those that have been shut out of the political and civic affairs of our communities,” Paul Chavez said.

‘HUMBLE’ SERVANT

Kendra Barkoff, who served a stint as Interior Department press secretary under Obama, with Rodriguez as her deputy, said Rodriguez was so “humble” that staff members didn’t realize the family connections at first.

“Once we learned, we were even more inspired by her,” said Barkoff.

Rodriguez still answers Barkoff’s telephone calls and emails even though they haven’t worked together since Barkoff went to the private sector in 2015.

“She’s pretty high up in the White House and still calls me ‘boss,’” Barkoff said.

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Our Fathers Fought GOP Voter Suppression 70 Years Ago

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Cesar Chavez and Fred Ross Sr. knew it would take a movement to fight measures aimed at intimidating Latino voters. So they built one.

By Paul Chavez and Fred Ross Jr.
published by The Nation Magazine on June 23, 2021

Why did President Biden place Cesar Chavez’s bronze bust in the Oval Office on Inauguration Day—27 years after his passing? Why did 17 million Americans support his boycott of California table grapes in 1975? Is it because the genesis of Chavez’s activism was community organizing and voter engagement? He was a civil rights leader before becoming a farm worker leader, and he embraced a transformational vision of trade unionism. With Republican lawmakers in many red states enacting laws to thwart voting by people of color, this is a good time to examine Chavez’s roots.

Chavez’s journey to the White House began at age 25 when he met Fred Ross Sr., one of America’s great community organizers.

“The first time I met Fred Ross, he was about the last person I wanted to see,” Chavez said, eulogizing Ross in 1992. Ross came to the rough East San Jose barrio of Sal Si Puedes (Get Out If You Can) in spring 1952, organizing a chapter of the Community Service Organization after forming the mother chapter in East Los Angeles. Chavez had recently left the fields. He initially thought Ross was a college professor down from Berkeley or Stanford to study Mexicans and ask insulting questions.

So during a “house meeting” hosted for Ross in his home’s packed living room, Chavez planned to “get even” by having some tough young buddies scare him away. Then Ross started talking about empowerment through the ballot box—and changed Chavez’s life. Ross wrote in his diary, “I think I’ve found the guy I’m looking for.”

Over a frenetic 40 days and nights Chavez helped the CSO to register 4,000 voters. On Election Day, the county Republican Party sent “challengers” to intimidate first-time Latino voters—reminiscent of the voter suppression civil rights activists resist in the South today. The strategy backfired. One Latino voter said, “At first I got really mad, but then thought if they go to all that trouble to keep us from voting, it means they are paying attention to us.”

When so many Latinos voted, county officials ordered packinghouses to stop dumping waste into barrio creeks, and fixed cesspools that had been causing amoebic dysentery.

Ross hired Chavez as a full-time organizer. Together, Ross and Chavez created 22 CSO chapters throughout California that signed up more than 500,000 voters and helped 50,000 legal residents become citizens. Leaders developed such as Edward RoybalHerman GallegosCruz Reynoso and countless others. CSO battled voter suppression, police brutality, job discrimination and school segregation. It formed a diverse coalition of Latinos, African Americans, Jews, Catholics, Japanese Americans, and labor leaders.

Chavez and Ross directed registration of 160,000 Latinos and turned out voters in the 1960 John Kennedy presidential race, winning praise from John and Robert Kennedy, who met with Chavez.

After his 25-day fast for nonviolence in 1968, Chavez asked Ross to mount a statewide registration and voter turnout drive for Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign. United Farm Workers organizers and grape strikers joined veteran CSO activists in East LA. “Bird dogs” went door-to-door ahead of deputy registrars marking sidewalks with chalk in front of homes with unregistered voters. In 20 days, they registered 11,000 new voters just in the Eastside.

Chavez traveled the state stumping for Kennedy. John Lewis recalled spending the final weeks before the June primary accompanying Chavez “deep into some of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, both Latino and African American. We met and talked with countless people—one by one or assembled at rallies.” High turnout in Latino and Black precincts brought Kennedy victory before he was shot at the Ambassador Hotel.

Ross taught Chavez that organizing is about listening to people, engaging them on issues they care about, and spurring them to collective action. CSO became the biggest, most influential California Latino civil rights group of the 1950s and early ’60s. “CSO was the best and most effective grass roots organization to which I have belonged,” affirmed Cruz Reynoso, later the first Latino California Supreme Court justice.

“You can’t do anything by talking,” Chavez observed. “You can’t do anything if you haven’t got the power…. And the only way you can generate power is by doing a lot of work.”

Fulfilling his dream of organizing farm workers in 1962, and with Ross’s help, Chavez—joined by Dolores Huerta and Gilbert Padilla—used the community organizing principles they learned in CSO to build the UFW. They knew only a union could address abuses in the fields. But they also believed it would take more than a union to overcome the crippling dilemmas field workers faced upon returning to their communities; it would take a movement.

The same voter suppression CSO fought in the ’50s is now experiencing a resurgence. So passing HR 1, the For the People Act, and then organizing to turn out voters would be the truest tribute to Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, and Fred Ross.


Paul Chavez is president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, which keeps his father’s legacy alive through its affordable housing, educational radio, and academic tutoring endeavors.

Fred Ross Jr.Fred Ross Jr. is a veteran labor, community and political organizer who was trained and mentored by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and his father, Fred Ross Sr.