Since the day she became a teacher in 1970, Shelly only taught and worked in bilingual, English Learner programs. Whether she was a teacher, principal, district specialist or county consultant, her passion has been working with and for English Learners and their families. Her life has been enriched by her experiences in different settings and communities. She grew up in a home in which social justice was valued and celebrated. As an educator, advocating for English Learners became a part of who she is. It was easy to retire from the Los Angeles County Office to Education to come work for Californians Together, and leading the organization was her perfect job. We have struggled, shed tears and rejoiced in our growing ability to influence and create new policy to build multilingual programs and honor the talents and gifts of our students and their families. By working in this movement, her life-long colleagues and friends have become her extended family.
Director of Policy & Initiatives
Martha Hernandez, the oldest of nine children, is a first-generation college graduate and a role model for her siblings who also earned university degrees and are now serving as physicians, teachers, a computer programmer, an organic chemist and a doctor of pharmacy. She attributes her family’s success to her mother who was an unwavering advocate for her children with a strong belief in the power of public education. Her lifelong support of the United Farm Workers and bilingual education has fueled her commitment to causes of equity and excellence in education especially on behalf of English learners. Her 42 years of public school experience at the classroom, school, district and county levels as well as her involvement in numerous state committees will serve her well to advance the vision of Californians Together. Martha and her husband Aurelio Jaúregui are the owners of Evita’s Mexican Café in Ventura named after their daughter. She is especially proud of her son, Juancarlos who is an attorney and a computer software engineer.
Director of Communications
Claudia is a native of Mexico City who learned English in an immersion program. This experience was so transformative that it turned her into a lifelong advocate of bilingualism. She made sure her children became bilingual by attending K-12 Spanish dual immersion programs. Her commitment to equity has only been strengthened by working with powerful advocates such as Jeannie Oakes, Jackie Goldberg and Steve Zimmer. She feels that this, her years as an entrepreneur, and her work as a Communications Specialist for UCLA IDEA (Institute for Democracy, Education and Access) have prepared her well to now support Californians Together in increasing their reach and highlighting their powerful work. Her dog, Huitzi, keeps her exploring the outdoors and safe from real and perceived threats.
Director of Programs
A native Californian, Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez is very proud to be both a fifth-generation Azusa, CA resident and the daughter of a Mexican immigrant. Understanding the similarities and differences between the life experiences of her parents in California schools has driven her passion to be an advocate for all students in California public schools, but especially English Learners. Aligned with this passion, she has served on the Azusa USD Board of Education since 2001 and has served on the boards of several statewide and national non-profits. She works to provide tools and resources to educators to foster a safe and inclusive learning environment for immigrant and refugee students. You can find her project Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students here.
Ruth Barnett Barajas
Director of ELLLI
Growing up in San Diego County, Ruth had opportunities to become bilingual, applying what she had learned in her Spanish courses at school, starting with a high school summer program sponsored by Rotary International, in Leon, Gto., and continuing later on with a year in Mexico City, where she lived with a host family and attended La Universidad Iberoamericana. Ever since this experience, she has been a strong advocate for English learners and native English speakers alike, working so that all students could have the opportunity to become proficient in a second (or third!) language. With over 25 years in the field of EL education, Ruth has provided instruction and leadership at school and district levels, serving as a Bilingual Teacher, EL Programs Specialist, and School Principal. As Project Director for the English Learner Leadership and Legacy Initiave (ELLLI), Ruth works with senior EL Leaders together with Fellows and Partners from throughout California to continue to build and sustain the movement for educational equity and excellence for English Learners in our schools today and in years to come.
A Southern California Native, Erika Menjivar fell in love with nonprofit work in college. Erika helped plan annual Youth Summits - where students visited the college campus and learned about the different opportunities and resources available to them. In this work Erika found her passion in advocating for youth and education. Erika is continually inspired by the work she supports for Californians Together, she hopes that she can continually make a positive impact for English Learners and Bilingualism. On her spare time you will find Erika at a dance studio, she loves dancing, specifically, Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha and Mambo.
Van was born in a refugee camp in Cambodia and was brought to the US when he was 4 months old. He is bilingual in Khmer, which he uses regularly in his community. He has been with Californians Together since 2011 where his technical and administrative skills are deeply appreciated. He is committed to the vision of Californians Together and is dedicated to helping build our capacity and outreach to educators and students. He enjoys his work, because he enjoys being challenged and the people he gets to work with.
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