Homelessness, racial and ethnic discrimination, bullying and a lack of parental support put some students in Ventura County at a serious educational disadvantage.

 
According to David Perez, chairman of the United Way Young Leader’s Society, there are gaps in the education system that have put us in a “permanent national recession” because students aren’t receiving high-quality educations and are actually costing taxpayers money in the long run.

In the past two years the Social Justice Fund (SJF) of Ventura County made its priority investing in young people. It granted thousands of dollars to a handful of ambitious projects with the goal of leveling the playing field for students in Ventura County, to keep them from running behind the bus, so to speak.

To raise awareness and show donors the impact those grants have had, SJF provides an annual bus tour of a few organizations it supports.

This year, the bus stopped at Hueneme High School, home to the Tequio Youth Group, which received a $5,000 grant.

Members of Tequio are trying to rid schools of racial discrimination against Latinos.

This year Tequio students helped ban the racial epithets “oaxaquita,” which means “little Oaxacan” and “indito,” which means “little Indian,” from use in schools in the Oxnard Union High School District.

Students who are bullied because they come from Oaxaca, Mexico, often feel ashamed of their background.

“They hate their language, they hate their skin and they hate their family,” said Jose Martinez of the Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project. Martinez encourages those students to “Be proud of yourself, love yourself and say, ‘I am a human being.’ ”

When minority students come home from school, their struggles follow them. Often, parents who speak little English and are unfamiliar with the school system in the U.S. are ill-equipped to help their children succeed in school and get into college.

“Parents don’t come here so their children can be as behind as they are,” said Luann Rocha, executive director at El Centrito Family Learning Center, which fathered the Padres Promotores Education Project. “If parents don’t take on that advocacy role, the chances of success for children from low-income families goes way down,” she said.

SJF granted $6,047 to Padres Promotores, which mentors parents and gives them tools to help their children through school; and while that won’t fix the communication issue completely, it has made a difference for Fabiola Martinez, a parent representative who helps educate other parents about standardized testing, grade point averages and the difference between private and public universities.

“We want to increase it [the communication] — this is our goal,” Martinez said.

Martinez has two daughters ages 5 and 9 and is currently earning her general education degree at the adult center in Oxnard. Martinez is proud that she is able to help her daughter with her homework.

The SJF bus tour offered passengers just a sampling of the groups it has helped this year. Last year, SJF granted $55,000. This year it hopes to give away $60,000. Grantees will be chosen at a meeting of a couple dozen donors.

“We want to go deeper than charity,” said Tricia Keen, administrative director for SJF. “The people most affected by injustice know best what needs to be done to help them,” she said.