Reclaiming the California Dream
Episode 2 - Teaching Through Budget Crises
Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.
Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund (https://aapiforce-ef.org) and Project by Project San Francisco (https://projectbyproject.org).
Produced by Raymond Luu.
As a 5th grade teacher, Eunice Buenaflor balances teaching, curriculum development, and budgeting as she faces increasing budget cuts every year.
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Hey everyone, I’m your host. Raymond Luu. Welcome to our limited podcast series, Reclaiming the California dream. We’ll be hearing stories from some amazing individuals and how much their community means to them. Schools and Communities First act, also known as Proposition 15 will restore 1$2 billion a year in funding for our roads, parks and libraries, health clinics, and trauma centers, local schools, and community colleges. By working together to pass Schools and Communities First, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families, and build a future where all Californians have access to quality, healthcare, and education we deserve. Today. We’ll be talking with Eunice Buenaflor. As a Fifth grade teacher, she shares some of her struggles she’s had to deal with regarding budget cuts teaching during a pandemic, and why she’s concerned about education since it’s always the first to make sacrifices during a financial crisis. Hello, Eunice. Let’s go ahead and start with something easy and go ahead and introduce yourself.
Yeah, so my name is Eunice Buenaflor, and I’m 28 and I live in Corona, California. I’m a general ed teacher for fifth grade. This is my second year going into my third year, actually. So this past distance learning was my second year and now I’m moving into my third year.
And where did you grow up?
So I grew up in the East Bay area of the Bay area and you know, lived there until 2016 and then I moved to Southern California.
And you mentioned what really kind of got you into teaching?
So I’ve always had, I need, this is very cliche and a lot of educators. Do you say this, but they’ve always, I’ve always had that passion to work with students. And you know, this passion kind of grew with my time at Boys and Girls Club and different times where I’ve, you know, been exposed to children and how wonderful and magnificent that can be and being able to kind of push for better teachers because growing up, I, you know, it was either a hit or miss. So I knew that my personality would have been a good fit. And, it was really a drive that just wouldn’t go away. So I answered that call. I started out as business, economics, and I really answered that call to, you know, what, what makes you happy and that kind of fit into the education world.
Let’s kind of talk about your upbringing here in the Bay Area. And if you could share with me just a little bit about your own family history.
So I was born in Berkeley, California, born and raised in the Bay Area. My parents, my mom and dad were both from the Philippines. And they came over here. Of course like your typical immigrant story, they came here for a better life. And what happened was my dad was petitioned by his oldest sister and then married my mother and my mother soon followed to the United States. They were very lucky in this situation. They were in bought a house when it was still fair market prices then and you know, really wanted that American Dream.
Hmm. Now I can imagine given your family background that and where you grew up, you had the opportunity to being exposed to different cultures and backgrounds. Could you share with me maybe some of the benefits that you experienced growing up in that type of environment and also share what it was like in a school setting,
Being able to grow up in that has a lot of, a lot of benefits. And in the school that I was in, I had the ability to explore those different things. In terms of school districts, I was supposed to go to a district that was not as well off in their education and my mom didn’t have a lot of money growing up. My mom was a breadwinner. So in her… In hindsight, you know, I want to give my child’s a better education. That’s why they came to America. So she really put her brides in there and really worked multiple jobs in order to send me to a better school. And you know, with that sacrifice, I was able like you know, to have those privileges, for example, one-on-one techno…, Well, not one on one technology to technology in general, back in the two thousands, we didn’t really have that concept of one-on-one yet because technology was still a new thing growing up.
I had the ability to really go into career day that school and, you know, see how the community came in and volunteered their time to share what their job was like and being able to see, wow, like, you know, these are the steps that they took and not all schools have that ability to have those career days. But I was very thankful for that. And it wasn’t until going into, I say this all the time, it wasn’t into going into general education in a public school setting that you really see the inequities that happen. And, you know, I want to be able to have that for all children. Cause I, I believe that, you know, depending on your zip code, it shouldn’t dictate what your future looks like. Right. So being able to see that compare and contrast was very, very eye opening.
So having a public education system is essential to communities primarily because it’s available to the public. However, that also means it’s held to a public budget, which fully does go through cuts time from time. Do you have any firsthand experience of a school program or resource being a victim of budget cuts?
I think early on and while I was still a student a lot of our older students who pass our grade or like those grades above us, went to the summer camp and they all had that ability to have that experience while when I came in, budgets were cut and I wasn’t able to experience that. And of course, as a child, you don’t really know the implications or the heartaches, you know, but now I’m very much aware of like the school budget. And what does that look like? And now going into schools now like we are given a certain budget as a teacher and it is not the biggest budget. You know, because you have to fund multiple grade levels and each grade level has multiple teachers. So, you know, we’re given an X amount of money and that is completely, you know, dissipated or disappeared in like a week or two, because we fund supplies, we fund classroom materials, reading curriculum, supplementary curriculum, and that money though, it’s, it’s a good amount of money.
It disappears. And after that, we’re kind of stuck with, how do we supplement? Do we get parent donations? Do we have a Donors Choose set up to you know, fill in those gaps? Right. So last year I actually got a decrease in my budget about a hundred dollars. And you know, I see a hundred dollars as, you know, class set of books or I see a hundred dollars as art materials because we don’t have an art teacher or I see those as materials that I can use as a steam project. Right. So I have to be very careful with that and I have to plan ahead and how to reallocate what I buy and what I don’t.
I mean, excuse my ignorance, but I mean, you just listed a long list of things you have to think about on top of the core curriculum that you have to teach to your students. I’m just curious, how do you maintain some level of I mean, sanity when you’re teaching,
Right. You know, as a teacher, you kind of… The mood of your class really is from the energy that you put in. So if you seem distraught, the kids are…like they know right away. And you know, they say like, “Oh, you know, last year I had XYZ this year, I don’t have XYZ.” So in terms of that, you know, we have to really reach out to our parents. And like I said, parent teacher associations are vastly different in different school districts. Sometimes you get, you know, really gung ho parents and they want to participate. They want to be active. They want to put on all of these, you know events for children like the current district that I’m in. But those also do come with challenges. And then you have the other side where, you know, the parents are working full time jobs and they don’t have time to spend with their kids.
And you know, as you know, the current distance learning, that was a very big challenge for our parents. So it really depends on how well off your community is. And it shows with the amount of funding you get from those parents. I can get, you know, a lot of donations at one school, but I remember previously as a student teacher, I didn’t get anything right. So when I don’t get anything, of course I have to supplement. And I like to say that I am a very frugal person because a lot of my money goes towards funding those supplies. And it’s just because that’s just how it is. And you don’t complain about it because that’s just kind of the, I guess, frontier that you decided to take as a teacher. That’s something that, you know, that you have to do.
How has COVID-19 impacted you as an educator?
It’s, it’s hard to plan. And in terms of teaching, it’s all about planning ahead. And you know, when you’re given weeks of information and, you know, information that constantly changes within the minutes sometimes it’s really hard to understand what the next school year is going to look like. A lot of our teachers are very adaptable but a lot of them, you know, draw that line of, I want to be able to know what’s going to happen. I want to be able to know what I can expect, what safety looks like for parents, teachers, and staff. So it’s very difficult. I can’t, you know, divulge or say much about what our personal school’s doing. But it is unprecedented times. And you know, of course we wish it was another way,
Learning more about Schools and Communities First, you know, Proposition 15, about reclaiming 12 billion a year. So we can reinvest in, in our public school system, our public health system, critical local services by closing corporate tax loopholes. All that, I imagine given kind of what you’ve explained to me so far is the need to lean in, on distance learning. So, I mean, I gotta assume that the demand for technology is going to be even greater and the resources for that is going to be greater. Right?
Right. So technology is a big thing in distance learning. Not every child has internet capability. Being able to provide hotspots for our children, and even with hotspots, you know, there’s internet that is unreliable. And sometimes they’re not able to put in information or their assignments in on time. And devices in general devices are very expensive and to move curriculum into an online base is very, very unfair for many students who only have maybe one or not, you know, before it was simple to get away with it with libraries and public libraries that you can do, but it doesn’t have the ability to have one-to-one for students, which is ideal, right. If you’re going to have an online program, you’re going to have a way to access online programs. And that’s not the case for a lot of our families. So that resource really is going to go towards how can we supply our children with the adequate amount of technology that they need, charges that they need. And with families, you know, who have upwards of three kids, two kids, one kid, you know, it’s hard, especially if they’re sharing one family computer with different grade levels.
So I think about how some schools have adequate funding and perhaps another school in another neighborhood, not too far away does not. Why and how some schools are chosen to receive more funding than others is probably a whole list of things that, you know, we don’t have to kind of get to right now, but what did you say having more money to go around more revenue flowing into our communities could quite possibly remedy some of those issues.
Yeah. So, you know, I worked at the school district, San Jose actually, and it, the different schools were very different, even if they were part of the same district with the funds. I think we could give students a very good curriculum, updated textbooks, updated online resources. I dunno if you know, there’s a bunch of educational resources out there that are amazing. Some that are on the top of my head is Nearpod Brain Pop, all of those technology based things that provide students with virtual field trips. So being able to fund stuff like that will make education so much more exciting and give our students any student… Regardless of, you know, their tax bracket, whether their parents make, it gives them a fighting chance. You know, there’s a situation where, you know, students can only have textbooks or only get the bare minimum versus schools that are able to provide those, you know, trips to Washington, DC trips to New York trips to camp or museums. Right. So being able to give that fighting chance is something that I’m so passionate about because every child deserves that chance. You know, because it’s, when you’re born into a poor neighborhood, it’s very hard to get out of it if you don’t have those resources available.
You know I’d like to kind of get your perspective on why community is really important, especially for children of a young age.
So as an educator, from my perspective, I think community is so, so important because you don’t know what a child’s home life is. You don’t know how consistent, how you know, they run their day to day. Sometimes our kids are babysitting their own little siblings or they don’t have their parents to help them. So being able to have a sense of community is sometimes the only sense of consistency that they have. And with kids, consistency is so important. I cannot stress that enough. If a child is able to follow a consistent schedule, a consistent place where they have to be, which is why distance learning is so criticized, because it doesn’t have that consistency for them. So the sense of community has a sense of belonging and has a sense of self or that student, we practice a lot of social, emotional learning.
And one of that is how can our community help our children gain social, emotional health or strengthen their social, emotional learning. Right. So you know, I had students who, I can’t say the name and whatnot, but I’ve had students who didn’t have a consistent schedule and coming into a new school, that student was, was very much a student that no one really wanted to be around, but later on building that community, which is a very slow process, but a process that is very important, you can see the drastic change. Like it was like, like different person in general at the end of the year, right? So that was something that I knew community worked for this person,
Something I’d like to get your thoughts on California currently ranks as the fifth biggest economy in the world. We have Silicon Valley, the entertainment industry, agriculture, some of the top higher education schools here, lots and lots of money flowing through our state and really some of the brightest minds ever to kind of come out of here yet for K through 12 education, California ranks, 37th in the US. Why do you think that is?
Because we don’t have equitable resources at all. So it…being an educator and seeing different types of districts, I think I’ve been into about four districts. I’ve worked for very well off districts and seen the ability that they have and various, yes, low economic or low social economic districts, that there was barely scraping by. So if we are able to focus on K through 12 education, we can definitely change the lives of students that, you know, otherwise would have had to go to work right away, not ability to have that higher education in which I’m not saying, you know, you can’t, you don’t have to be a college graduate to be very successful, but it definitely helps for some kids to have that … That possibility, you know, to have that higher education. So I think it boils down to, we need to get more computers. We need to get more resources, books, updated curriculum to all students, regardless of their zip code or socioeconomic standing.
So I recently read an op-ed to the San Francisco Chronicle where they talk about the 2008 economic crisis and how we need to lean into education instead of taking money out of it. Certainly we’re heading into another financial crisis with the coronavirus…if you were standing in front of a public official or state legislator, lawmaker thinking about possibly, but budget cutting education, what would you say to them?
It’s really hard because education is always the first we cut, taking those hits after hits, after hits. It’s like, well, what else, what do we have left, right? Is it laying off teachers or, you know, with, with class sizes, getting higher in order to fit that need you know, I want to tell them that it is very difficult as an educator to provide a good education for my kids when I don’t have any, and to continue to pull from that. It’s like, we’ve been hit many times already. So if we are continuing to be hit, what is left over, right. So it’s very difficult to provide that for kids if we continue to get hit like that.
Last question, Eunice, if Schools and Communities First passed, how would you personally like to see those resources used?
So I’m a, I’m an avid person who believes that students should have a wide range of books to read. We share books and my school class sets. And that’s something that I wish we didn’t have to do. Because I think every child should be able to read a book in school without any idea of where it’s going to come from, because books are expensive, especially for 30, a class of 30. I want my kids to know that they have the devices, technology devices that are readily available to them. We don’t have to think twice about what brands we need to put. A lot of teachers use Donors Choose where they have to type up a whole spiel of why they need to be funded. And something I didn’t touch upon is how we can better accommodate for our IEP.
And I have a four students are students with special needs and special accommodations. So not being able to think twice of where I need to get these things that are needed for students like timers, so they can time themselves of what they need to work on bouncy balls that they need, or for them to be able to take a break. Those are all expensive. Those are all very, very much funded by teachers or by grants, right? So I want to be able to not think about where I’m going to get my resources or do I have to think if, you know, Joey needs school supplies, cause I I’m going to need to buy school supplies for Joey. So that’s something that I want to do is have the ability to not know where my supplies come from, just to know that we have them
Well, Eunice again, thank you so much for taking the time out to go ahead and speak with me today. And I want to say thank you again for the work that you do for our community and how important you are.
Thank you. Alright, bye.
Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund and Project by Project San Francisco. If you’d like to learn more about us, visit our website at aapiforce-ef.org and Projectbyproject.org ad. Paid for by Chinese progressive association, nonprofit 501c3. Committee major funding from Chinese Progressive Association.