WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Consuelo Villegas is usually the first one to arrive and the last one to leave at Dos Puentes Elementary School — and she's always the one parents and families come to with questions, concerns or when they need a welcoming hug.
Villegas, a parent coordinator — one of the nearly 1,500 employed by city schools — said her role is crucial to making sure parents and families participate and get involved in their children’s education.
“I’m like the grandmother for all the kids, and the mom for all my parents,” Villegas said, adding that she feels like a magnetic point in the school, because she enjoys connecting all the parents, teachers, and families.
Villegas understands the challenges that many of her parents and students face firsthand. She was an undocumented immigrant when she arrived from her native country of Medellin, Columbia via Mexico. She immediately started finding ways to continue her education.
"The goal was to help my family back home, and you know most immigrants come with that purpose, to help our families and continue our education," Villegas said.
She took English as a Second Language classes, while completing her bookkeeping and accounting degree from Hunter College. She also worked several jobs — including babysitting jobs — to raise her son as a single mother before landing a job with the DOE, she said.
Villegas spent nearly 14 years as a family worker and head of an afterschool program at P.S. 75 in the Upper East Side before heading to The Bronx to spend another 14 years at P.S. 64 as a family worker.
Her career came full circle, however, when four years ago Principal Victor Hunt, who met her at P.S. 75, told her she was founding Dos Puentes and asked her to apply for the parent coordinator position.
“I applied and I’m so, so happy I did,” said Villegas, who added that she loves the level of involvement with parents and ability to help them navigate the DOE that went far beyond her prior job description as a family worker.
The parent coordinator positions were created by the Bloomberg administration to help parents navigate the public school system at a time when many felt they were being shut out of key decisions made at schools.
It differs from being a family worker, Villegas said, in that there’s more involvement with families, and making sure they understand what’s going on inside the schools and with their children.
“The parent coordinator does their job of receiving the parents, and make sure that a child and their parents are ... happy, secure and always learning,” Villegas said. “The parent coordinators are here to help parents. That’s why the DOE created this position, to create that link between families, the community and the administrators in the school.”
Villegas holds monthly workshops in English and Spanish on topics including bullying, handling stress and providing parenting tips. She also meets monthly with class representatives, who she said are parents selected to represent each classroom.
In addition to the workshop organized with families, Villegas said she also attends trainings provided by the DOE, which allows her to meet other coordinators, understand what works for others and what doesn’t, and provides her with the tools she needs to make sure she’s doing the best she can do at her job, she said.
But the job does come with challenges, Villegas said, especially when she realizes there are some parents and families she can’t connect to the school as often as necessary.
“When I find parents that can’t make time or energy to attend events for their school and child, and it makes me work so much harder with that family,” Villegas said. “But I don’t give up. I try to find the way to make these parents come to the school, so the child can see that their parents indeed love them.”