Southeast Seattle comprises a large population of refugee and immigrant families. The U.S. Census reports that over 50 different languages are spoken in this area alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, with the Asian population (34%) is the largest subgroup in this area. Narrowing it down further, Vietnamese are the second largest ethnic group with a population of 3,580 individuals (or 26% of the total area population).
Although there is richness in diversity in Southeast Seattle, schools here face numerous challenges, such as providing support for students whose parents speak little English and who work several jobs to support the family. The schools in the Southeast are unique compared to district-wide: 8% White (compared to 43% district-wide), 72% free and reduced lunch (compared to 43% district-wide) and 22% English Language Learner (compared with 10% across the district). Immigrant, refugees, and other communities of color have little voice in a system where the loudest voices are heard. 60% of our English Language Learner students in Seattle Public Schools graduate from high school, compared to 79% on average.
VFA understands the needs to work with other communities of color to push for systemic changes that would benefit all communities of color. To this end, we have worked on several key projects:
- VFA is one of the founding organizations (and current Chair) of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC)—a collaboration of community based organizations, activists, and stakeholders working to improve schools in Southeast Seattle. The coalition is working on key priorities including access to preschool for all low-income kids, mental health and career counselors in every school, equitable distribution of resources to low-income schools, and ELL endorsements for all SE teachers.
- In addition to education advocacy, VFA is also spearheading the Rainier Valley Corps (RVC). RVC works to increase the strength and effectiveness of immigrant/refugee organizations in Southeast Seattle by recruiting emerging leaders from diverse immigrant communities; providing training and support to further develop their leadership capacity and knowledge of non-profit management, capacity building and working with community dynamics; and placing them in community based organizations (CBOs) to develop the organizations’ capacity. In this way, capacity and impact of CBOs is strengthened while leadership from within communities is deepened and supported for the long-term.