May 03, 2013
Busy working mom Ileann Jimenez-Sepulveda tried to start with small involvement commitments at school, like chaperoning field trips. But by the end of her child’s first year in school, she was an impassioned leader of the volunteer corps and someone the teachers had come to rely on.
The day their firstborn starts kindergarten is likely one most parents never forget. The anticipation, the hopes, the dreams—a whole new world beckons. Ileann Jimenez-Sepulveda remembers it well. She also knew from the moment she first set foot in Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Washington, D.C., that she wanted to get involved. “When I walked in, I was like, OK, I don’t know what my role is here but I do know that I want to be there for my child,” she says.
Jimenez-Sepulveda can best be described as a passionate person, and she was soon swept up in the fervor of volunteering at Oyster-Adams. The school’s well-established parent-teacher community had many great leaders who inspired her although, she admits to feeling a little intimidated at first. She also wasn’t sure how much responsibility she could handle given her full-time job as a realtor.
So Jimenez-Sepulveda started small—initially chaperoning a field trip or two—but she quickly added translation work to her resume. Being fluent in both Spanish and English proved a handy skill at the bilingual school, and teachers soon came to count on her ability. By the end of her daughter’s kindergarten year, she had a finger in so many pies that leaders pooh-poohed her initial reservations about taking on a bigger role, telling her she was already doing all the work so she might as well assume the title.
That’s how Jimenez-Sepulveda came to be a room parent coordinator. She and another parent are in charge of organizing all parent, teacher, and administrator matters and disseminating information to every preK through 8th grade class. They’re also responsible for recruiting volunteers for all the school’s activities. It’s a daunting challenge, given the bilingual nature of the school: two instructional languages, two teachers per classroom, even two buildings almost a mile apart.
Yet Jimenez-Sepulveda takes it all in stride and has widened her scope to include staging a successful Hispanic heritage event each October. Multiple hours of preparation culminate in an evening that celebrates the many unique contributions of Latinos in this country and attracts 450-plus guests annually. “It’s an opportunity to highlight our food, our culture, our music, and our dance,” she says. In 2012 Colombian, Cuban, Salvadoran, Mexican, and Peruvian foods were offered, and the variety provided a great snapshot of what the school community looks like. But it isn’t just Latinos who get excited about the affair. “Anybody who’s lived abroad or visited any Latin American countries gets very much into it. It’s just a wonderful event which brings community members together,” she says.
You might think this busy full-time working mother of two would stop there, but Jimenez-Sepulveda is also behind an antibullying initiative at the school that aims to plant a seed in the early elementary grades. She was part of a team that developed a program in which a Spanish curriculum coach helps children recognize the vocabulary of bullying: What is a bystander? What is a bully? What is the behavior? The goal is to give students the tools to know what to do in the event of bullying: How should they react? Who can they go to? “By starting this initiative in 2nd grade, we figure we might be able to decrease the incidence of bullying by the time these children reach their middle and high school years,” Jimenez-Sepulveda says.
This whirlwind of a volunteer shows no signs of slowing down. She’s noticed that a common thread links the many dedicated individuals who help out at the school. “Passion is the driving force behind all the parents who ‘do’ without asking, ‘do’ because they see a need, and ‘do’ because they believe in the school and their children. And passion is always fun and enjoyable, even when it is ‘work,’” she says. Considering the hours she puts in, Jimenez-Sepulveda is clearly having the time of her life!
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo credit: James Ferry