Teacher Spotlight: Franca Muller Paz
Franca Muller Paz is a Spanish teacher and BTU building representative at Baltimore City College High School where she has worked for 9 years. Prior to that, Ms. Muller Paz taught for 3 years in Philadelphia.
How has this school year been going for you?
This school year has been challenging. Many students returned to in-person classes with issues concerning mental health that were far less visible to educators, guidance counselors, and social workers than had they been when we were virtual. Despite the challenges, I feel like I have fallen back in love with the teaching profession – it feels good to be back!
Tell us about your work with SOMOS.
SOMOS stands for Students Organizing a Multicultural Open Society. Since 2014, they are a group of student advocates who fight against issues of inequity in Baltimore City Schools and beyond. They engage in advocacy around issues important to them such as rights for English Language Learners to access high quality internet and more. This year, they have begun working to organize tutoring services for English Language Learners in Baltimore City College High School.
When I attended high school, I never felt like there was a place for me or a network of adults that understood what my family or community was going through. When students at City College also began to voice this concern, myself and two other educators, Edwin Perez and Connie Sanabria, thought it was critical to support students in creating that safe space.
Youth advocacy is tremendously important because young people are our present. They have tremendous knowledge, power, and energy to enact change. I think it is important to support students in the discovery of their own power and capacity for influence. When we know we have agency over our world, I think that is a critical understanding that is a salve in a society that often tries to tell us that things will not change or are hopeless.
How have you supported youth voice beyond the school level?
I think my biggest role has always been to just help step back and create space for young people to take the lead. Sometimes this looks like connecting them with other members of their community and supporting them as they build those relationships, such as with members of the press, politicians like District 1 Councilman Zeke Cohen, members of the Baltimore Teachers Union, the ACLU, the Fund for Educational Excellence, broadband advocates and others. As they build these networks, students are able to learn how they want to engage around the issues and strategies many different people bring to the table.
What are some other roles you have played within BTU and in the community?
I have been a building rep since the Fall of 2018. I have also supported the work of the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools, Digital Advocates, BTU Legislative & Organizing Committees, and others. My biggest project connected to BCPSS has been the work of SOMOS to ensure that English Language Learners have a fair opportunity to attend Baltimore’s highly selective schools. As a result, students who have been learning English for 3 years or fewer, now have access to critical accommodations and translation support. This enabled students to show their capacity in a language they could be most successful in. This has resulted in a huge increase of ESL students to schools like City, Poly, Western, and Dunbar. Additionally, I am a musician for Conjunto Bruja, an ensemble that plays music from Latin America and the Middle East, and also a folk dancer for Grupo Folclórico Naciones Unidas.
In 2020 you ran for Baltimore City Council with BTU’s endorsement. What did you learn from that experience that has informed your work as a rank-and-file leader in BTU and as an advocate for young people?
I learned that it is always important to be yourself and stay true to your own values. While our campaign didn’t win, I think we helped to bring joy and awareness to issues during the very dark time of the beginning of the pandemic. We accomplished this through outdoor musical caravans and concerts, a rarity during that time. It was a great experience, and I encourage women of color (who often need to be asked 10 times before they run) to consider making that effort for the good of their communities.
What does being a union member mean to you?
It means fighting for one another, and ensuring that those who are the most impacted by issues have a seat at the tables of power over the decisions that affect them.