Empowering students through participation

For Esmeralda Martinez, a Spanish and leadership teacher at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, paving the way for student success and contributing to a legacy of leadership are her priorities and her passion.

She moved to the United States when she was 5 years old and recalls translating for her mother from Mexico and her father from Colombia as she grew up learning English as a second language. Combined with her positive experiences with teachers in her Dallas ISD schools and her involvement in Skyline High School’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) council, Martinez realized she wanted to become an educator and a LULAC sponsor to pour into others the same way people poured into her.

“At Skyline, LULAC was one of our most active clubs,” Martinez said. “I’ve always loved giving back to the community and volunteering, and I found a home away from home. They were willing to invest in me and showed me the ropes in regards to how to obtain a college education, how to go about paying for it, and also seeing other Latinos that look like me in different professional realms.” 

When she joined Irma Rangel’s inaugural team, she knew she was going to help found the school’s LULAC council. Now, she said they have a council with over 160 active students. The students are required to do a minimum of 40 community service or civic engagement hours, and Martinez said she is proud of the work they do together.

Not only has Martinez helped students network, study abroad, and participate in prestigious national programs, but she has also seen graduates go on to start their own LULAC councils at The University of Texas at San Antonio, Southern Methodist University, The University of Texas at Dallas, and more.

“It continues to build that sense that we’re all in it together to better our community and to better each other through education,” Martinez said. “We are fighting for a better society—for Latinos and for the whole. Our students have all been great, because we see that our work has tripled and affects different communities even beyond Dallas.”

Irma Rangel’s LULAC council has also developed an annual tradition of leading their community’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Starting over the summer, they met to plan how they would highlight the month and decided to focus on media representation this year.

Martinez and the LULAC students reached out to Univision and found a speaker to visit their campus in October. Students will also have the opportunity to visit Univision and go behind the scenes to see production and what it takes to put on the news every day.

“Part of creating academic environments where kids feel seen and nourished has to do with us showing appreciation for all the identities they bring,” Martinez said. “I would love to encourage schools that do not currently have LULAC councils and other organizations to create spaces for students to connect with community members who look like them and walk the same paths. There is so much power in walking toward something together. What better way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month than by creating spaces for our students to thrive?”

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