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Hispanic Heritage Month Interview with City Year L.A.’s New Executive Director, Dr. Sandra Cano


City Year Los Angeles’ Executive Director Dr. Sandra Cano sat down with our Team Leader at Jefferson High School, Jaime Romero, to chat about what her heritage means to her, especially as the first Latina to ever hold the position of Executive Director at City Year L.A., what motivates her, advice she has for corps members and more.

Q: What does being a Latina and serving as our Executive Director mean to you?

To me, more than anything I would say, it is a really big responsibility and a deep commitment. I say responsibility because when I look at the faces of our corps members, and when I go to the sites and see the students that are at our schools, I see myself. That’s the environment, that’s the community where I came from. To me, as the leader of City Year L.A. as the Executive Director, it’s a huge responsibility. It’s something that I can’t take lightly. I must remember all the things that I went through, all the social and institutional injustices that I saw, and I must establish myself as a leader of an organization that seeks to abolish that. So, it is a huge responsibility, but on my end, it’s a big commitment as well- I’m committed to being the voice. Even though I’m not on the front lines, I am serving as the voice of those that I serve. So I don’t see myself as a leader pushing my own agenda, I see myself as the leader that takes the voices of all of those who are not at the table, who are not able to voice the concerns that they have.

Q: Where does your passion for working with English Language Learners stem? What continues to motivate you in this work?

The biggest reason why I have such a passion for English Language Learners is because I was one. Not only that, but I think it’s more than just language. It also has to do with the culture that comes with language, and the beauty of that culture and the language. At a very young age, I remember going to an English-only pre-school. There was a particular situation where we were going to have an Easter egg hunt and I went home and I told my mom: “Mom, we’re going to have to bring eggs.” So she made cascarones. Which for those of you that don’t know, they’re eggs decorated with confetti inside and it’s used for a lot of our traditions. To me, it was such a big deal to bring these cascarones to school, and when I showed up to, the teacher looked at me with disgust and said, “This isn’t what we wanted.” And I think that as English Learners, that’s how you constantly feel, like, “you’re not able to talk the language that we talk”, so you feel as if you’re inferior. But to me it’s the complete opposite, you are becoming bilingual, which means you are going to be proficient in two languages and can reach double the amount of people. That’s something important for our communities to understand.

Q: Given your history of working with after-school programs, what do you feel is the importance of after-school programming?

I think there are two important things to consider when you’re building out an after-school program, and they stem from the fact that after-school programs should not be an extension of what already happened all day in the classrooms. Students are receiving instruction in some cases with 20-30 students at a time, and teachers can only teach to a certain degree that will reach all the students. Our after-school program aims to reach those students who aren’t necessarily getting reached. So, how do you do that? Well, the first thing is creating an environment where they are going to feel heard and they’re going to feel seen. We do this by creating relationships and building connections with the students, and creating an environment where students feel welcome. Even though it seems like it’s not related, it is so critical when it comes to building an effective after-school program. The other piece, especially because we focus a lot on academics, after-school programs should be an opportunity where you’re working with smaller groups of students, in which you are able to look at different ways in which you could present the content. It’s important that you are able to use that space to try creative ways and help students learn. That’s the most important way of just feeling free to be able to look at different ways in which the content is being taught, along with taking advantage of those enrichment opportunities to continue to build those relationships with those students.”

Watch the full interview below:


Jaime Romero was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, and now serves as an AmeriCorps Team Leader at Jefferson High School, his high school alma mater. As a first-gen student, the importance of education was instilled in him at an early age. During his high school days, he strived to access any opportunities, academic or otherwise, afforded to him in his community. Now a graduate of University of California, Los Angeles, he returned to serve and empower students hailing from his community of South Central L.A. so that they too can become aware of their potential and build skills to access resources available to them.

Dr. Sandra Cano is intimately familiar with the communities served by City Year LA, having been raised in some of the same neighborhoods where our students currently live. She has worked in the field of education for over two decades, starting her career as a kindergarten teacher on an emergency credential with her urgent need to provide for her daughter as a young mother… Most recently Dr. Cano comes to us from the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she served as a Field Coordinator for Beyond the Bell, LAUSD’s before and after-school program. In this role, she oversaw programming in 72 high schools serving 10,000 students. She worked with 12 non-profit organizations that provide the programming, and manages $15 million in private, federal, and state grants that fund the programs. Read more about our new Executive Director here. 

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