LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Delmis Umanzor

Position: Community Schools Coordinator
School: International High School @ Langley Park
School District: Prince George's County Public Schools
City, State: Bladensburg, MD

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Delmis Umanzor was nominated by Keishia Thorpe.

Mrs. Umanzor's Salvadoran parents did not know any English when she was little, and they both only had an education up to primary school. As such, once Mrs. Umanzor was “old enough,” she had to serve as interpreters as her parents navigated the different systems of employment, education, healthcare, and the housing market.

When she moved from Washington D.C. to Silver Spring, MD, Mrs. Umanzor faced a huge culture shock. She went from being surrounded by Salvadoran immigrants right by Mount Pleasant and attending school with a majority of black students, to attending a school where white children and white female teachers were the majority. She wasn't prepared to take the SAT and ACT exams or go to college. Mrs. Umanzor had applied to universities without understanding what they offered. She only wanted to go to the University of Maryland, College Park because her mom only ever talked about that school since it was close to home. Looking back, Mrs. Umanzor wishes she did more research and looked at the diversity of the student body because the University of Maryland wasn't gauged to support first-generation college students.

Mrs. Umanzor experienced many challenges going through college, including working other jobs so she could pay her way through school. She couldn’t really connect to the white and affluent peers she met in class. In her final year in college, she was able to learn from two Chicana professors who really shaped her focus on working with immigrant families after college. Her background of being raised by immigrant parents with a lack of education and a language barrier has really shaped who she is today. She really connects with the immigrant community she works with because of all the work she has done after graduating from college. Mrs. Umanzor wants to change the narrative of immigrants from doing the backbone work and being uneducated, to immigrants being educated and doing the work that's needed to keep this economy going. 

Mrs. Umanzor's mom has really inspired her throughout every step of her journey, from her adolescent education all the way through college. Her mom taught her the value and importance of education, even when she didn't have the same opportunity to pursue education in her country. Her mom didn't let a language barrier or a foreign country with a foreign education system and a minimal support network prevent her from getting the additional support Mrs. Umanzor and her siblings needed to be successful in school. Mrs. Umanzor really admires her mother, as she navigated the education system in D.C. with no English. Her mom found a school where she and her brother (who is one year older than her) could start school at only three years old at no additional cost.

One of the things that stood out to Mrs. Umanzor when she moved was that her family wasn't getting any in-home support services from the school. However, her mom made sure she and her siblings were enrolled in after-school programs and even summer school all the way through middle school, which her mom and dad paid for out-of-pocket. Her mother had told her she preferred paying this expense instead of a sitter where they would not learn anything new. 

Mrs. Umanzor was raised with the value of education, and it's what she brings with her to do the work she does every single day. The value of advocating for yourself and your students is also something she brings to her work. She shares her story with the families and students she works with to say she got to where she is today because her parents really pushed her to get a proper education and do better each day.

Mrs. Umanzor served as a CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA with the University of Maryland for two years. During her serving time, she was able to build the relationship and the partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park, both of Prince George’s County's International High Schools, and CASA, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy organization. These partnerships are still current today. Each semester, 10-12 UMD students provide 1-on-1 mentorship services to support CASA’s Mi Espacio After School program, which supports 20-25 Langley Park high school students who attend International High School at Langley Park students and High Point High School. In her first year as an AmeriCorps, she worked with both of Prince George’s County's International High Schools to create a family engagement program. She worked with the Community Outreach Caseworker to connect with parents on monthly workshops around reunification, financial aid, and college and career readiness. She was able to bring over 40 families to visit the University of Maryland campus. 

In her work with CASA, she built on expanding CASA’s youth advocacy program, Mi Espacio. With the MSDE grant, she was able to launch the Mi Espacio youth program in Langley Park in 2018. She worked with 60 students to engage them in advocacy and community service projects with CASA, art projects with a local Baltimore artist, and plans for college and career readiness to help them through their journey after high school.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, CASA was one of the first organizations to respond and help the Langley Park community. As part of the education department at CASA, Mrs. Umanzor and her colleagues quickly launched a food program in April 2020 to deliver weekly food boxes to 1000 families, all on a volunteer basis. She worked on coordinating with workers who received services from CASA to load boxes into the trunks of drivers. She communicated routes with volunteers and let families know that they would be receiving deliveries on a weekly basis through the summer of 2020. This work helped thousands of families with food insecurity at the start of the pandemic, when many families lost work and remained unemployed throughout the summer. 

In her current role, she facilitates all school partnerships that provide in-house services to students and families. She also works with families and students to connect them with resources in the school or refer them to local organizations based on where they live. She works on engaging families on a monthly basis. Mrs. Umanzor also runs the school’s steering committee, and she makes sure all of the Community School funds are used to run different programs to support the school’s SPP goals on decreasing chronic absenteeism, increasing scores on the Algebra MCAP, and increasing the individual growth on the WIDA Access exam. 

This school year, Mrs. Umanzor worked with the University of Maryland Department of Education to bring on college mentors to work with senior students as they wrote their college essays and learned about college life. Through the established relationship with CASA and Mi Esapcio, she worked with the counselors to refer students to the Mi Espacio after-school program for students who need additional academic support out of school time. 

During her time at CASA, she created the Mi Espacio curriculum to address personal narratives, social justice, college and career readiness, and financial literacy. She also facilitated summer internships for students. Many immigrant students are unaware of the opportunities that internships can provide. Additionally, many internships are unpaid, which is usually a barrier for low-income immigrant students. This was something Mrs. Umanzor took into consideration while looking for internship sites. She wanted to make sure the partnership sites could provide education stipends to help alleviate some of the financial barriers that come with being unable to do an unpaid internship for low-income immigrant students. Mrs. Umanzor worked with 20 Mi Espacio students to complete a summer internship in 2019 and 2020, and they all received an education stipend at the end of their internship. 

Because she had an already established relationship with some staff, students, and families through her previous roles that worked directly with the International High School at Langley, Mrs. Umanzor was able to quickly start running programming at the school. She got a lot of support from the school community when she started her new role as the school’s community school coordinator in March 2021. One of the first things she did when she started at the International High School at Langley Park was to meet with the principal, the community school liaison, teachers, students, and parents. She also reviewed data from the school’s needs assessment to learn what the needs of the school community were.

One of the first things she noticed was that the school did not have a food distribution program. She knew very well that the school community was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, so this was one of the first initiatives she took on to organize. With feedback from all school stakeholders, and with support from the Community School Liaison, Mrs. Umanzor was able to launch the school’s food distribution program in April 2021. Then, she used the Community School funds to continue running food distribution at the school on a weekly basis through the end of school year 2020-2021 and throughout the summer. The food distribution program served an average of 40 students and their families on a weekly basis. The food distribution program is now run on a monthly basis.

What Mrs. Umanzor loves the most about her job is that she has the opportunity to work with both immigrant students and their families. She loves being able to make an impact in their lives by connecting with them directly, getting to learn their challenges, and finding different support systems to alleviate some of those challenges. This addresses the student’s whole being so that they can be successful in school. The student’s life doesn’t start in school; it starts with life at home. The community schools strategy helps to ensure the school takes care of the students and their families. It's really a partnership so that the school is able to work together with families and students, families get the support they need, and students get the support they need to be successful in school.

Mrs. Umanzor is very passionate about the work she does, so she believes she goes above and beyond in every aspect of her work. Upon receiving any referral with services needed for a student and family, she always makes sure she gets to know the student’s background, not only in their academics, but at home. For example, she learns if they have health insurance, if they're going through any immigration proceedings, and if they need food support at home. What Mrs. Umanzor has found in her line of work is that if a student needs support in one thing, they usually need support elsewhere. Sometimes, a student comes to her to get a referral for vision screenings, and she usually learns that their family and younger siblings need the same referral. When she shares a resource with the student, she always makes sure to contact the family, as well, to inform them of that resource.

Families usually call her back to express their gratitude, which has created trust with them. Some of them have directly called Mrs. Umanzor to say they need help with other services, such as legal, employment, and housing services. She really appreciates the community school strategy because families already have trust in the school, so for families to have the school to rely on additional services or information in one location makes things a bit easier for them when they are also learning to navigate the school system, especially when they're new to America.

Outside of her role as the Community School Coordinator, Mrs. Umanzor is working on connecting with local officials. She has continued to maintain communication with CASA and their work, as she is passionate about helping undocumented immigrant students in pursuing higher education. She sees the lack of resources in the school system, and she has especially seen the gap in her work with Prince George’s County Schools. Mrs. Umanzor would like to change the language and the system from “Our students aren’t going to college, so why waste my time,” to “No, you can go to college, and here are resources that will give you the opportunity to attend. Let me help you apply.” 

Mrs. Umanzor has gone to speak at several PGCPS schools in her previous role about the Maryland State Financial Aid Application (MSFAA) for undocumented students who do not qualify for FAFSA. She has presented to an audience of over 60 PGCPS teachers on the state financial aid opportunities that are open to the undocumented student population, as well as changing the narrative that undocumented students can’t go to college. Mrs. Umanzor is continuing to work on advocating for this type of work because it's needed, and because more training is needed to educate counselors and teachers on the opportunities available for undocumented immigrants in Maryland.