Students First, a nonprofit organization that says its mission “is to build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform,” has named an East Los Angeles native a California “All Star Teacher.”
Christian Alcala teaches 2nd grade at Equitas Academy Charter School in the Pico-Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. He has been at the school since 2009, when he was hired for his first professional teaching job.
His motivation comes from his students, according to Alcala, who says he always knew he wanted to be a teacher.
“They are so hungry for learning and so excited and they show their appreciation for what I teach them,” he said in a press release announcing his selection by Students First.
Alcala attended Garfield High School in East Los Angeles and says that’s where he first started advocating for educational justice.
“When I went to Garfield High School, it had a 60% drop-out rate. I joined United Students, a partnership with Inner City Struggle to work on educational justice on the eastside. Overcrowding was a huge issue at that time and we met with the LAUSD school board about opening a new high school in East LA. I realized that many of my fellow students weren’t going to be able to go to college because they had only completed the basic graduation requirements, not the A-G courses required for college. I started to ask, ‘How do you make sure students have the option to go to college?’”
It was during that period that the then high school student also interned for EGP, helping to write and proof copy, eventually earning bylines in the community newspapers. Even then, his interests leaned toward writing about education issues in local schools.
Being a journalist, however, was not his goal; being a teacher was.
During college he worked at an urban elementary school and as an in-home tutor for students from low-performing schools and foster children.
Equitas Academy was newly opened when he joined the charter school’s teaching staff.
“It was a big challenge. Fortunately, I had excellent mentor teachers. It was awesome to have a say in what we were going to do – all our opinions were taken into consideration as we created the curriculum. I felt fortunate to have the flexibility to do what would make my kids successful.”
He has experienced the effects of state education policy first-hand, which included the failure to allocate class size reduction funds to many new charter schools: a big hit.
“Teachers are important in these conversations about education policy,” said Alcala. “Our goal should be student success and doing whatever it takes to get there.”