This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Erika Almiron believes great newspaper reporting should compel its audience to action.
So, after reading the Notebook‘s coverage of education management organizations in Philadelphia in 2008, Almiron braved a bitter February rain to stand among 200 District students demonstrating against the presence of EMOs in Philadelphia schools.
Almiron, then an organizer with the Philadelphia Student Union, doubts the protest would have taken place without the Notebook‘s coverage of EMOs because the articles proved the ineffectiveness of the outside providers.
"It just became really clear what needed to happen," she recalls.
Fast forward almost four years and Almiron, who now heads JUNTOS, an immigrant organizing group based in South Philadelphia, is not only an avid Notebook reader, but also a dues-paying member.
Almiron, 31, says the Notebook‘s commitment to honest journalism makes her community efforts possible.
"It’s from the truth that you can actually do good organizing work," she says.
Almiron has been engaged in community activism since high school. A graduate of Penn State in 2001, Almiron went on to work at the American Friends Service Committee and its Mexico-U.S. Border Program and later helped found the Media Mobilizing Project.
That activist career track led Almiron to the Philadelphia Student Union in 2007. Almiron first discovered the Notebook while working at PSU. She used it to navigate Philadelphia’s educational landscape and encouraged students she worked with to do the same.
For Almiron the Notebook‘s online coverage has proven particularly helpful, and she monitors the website closely.
"It’s the go-to place right now for up-to-date education news," Almiron says.
"I go to it before I go to any other news source to figure out what’s going on inside the District and outside the District."
As Almiron transitions to her new position as executive director of JUNTOS this fall, she brings the Notebook with her. Just as she once introduced it to students at PSU, Almiron now touts the Notebook to immigrant families who have education concerns.
She understands the need for reliable information in the immigrant community. Not long ago her own family was navigating a new country, a new language, and a new school system all at once.
Born in South Philadelphia to Paraguayan parents, Almiron recalls with poignant clarity the challenges she faced as a bilingual learner in Philadelphia schools. She sees much of that reflected in the families she serves today.
"When I look at the parents at the parent meetings who are struggling, I see my parents," Almiron says.
"I can see them [dealing with] the same exact things my parents struggled through – with work, with trying to navigate language and having the young ones try to translate for them. That was me. I was translating for my parents."
To alleviate pressures immigrant students face – language barriers, anti-immigrant sentiment, and financial distress among them — Almiron said immigrant communities must rally around their youth. And to do that, organizers need access to community-based reporting that considers views from the bottom up.
That’s where the Notebook enters Almiron’s equation.
"This is the journalism that’s really taking into account what’s going on on the ground," Almiron says.
"There’s definitely a sense that the Notebook respects the leadership coming from the community."