Five Questions (5Q) With…

Mari Corugedo has been a Florida resident for the majority of her life, a graduate of Southwest Senior High School she then went on to earn both her bachelor and master’s degrees from Barry University. Now she is a successful community organizer, educator and United Teachers of Dade Building Steward at Jack D. Gordon Elementary School. She was awarded Teacher of the Year in both 2013 and 2015 UTD Steward of the Year, while also serving her community as the LULAC Florida State Director and a fierce advocate for public education, bilingual education and equity for all students.

Through a successful career as a public-school teacher, she’s a revered leader throughout Florida. She’s worked tirelessly to improve outcomes for all students ensuring equity in our schools. She’s fought for bilingual-education, healthcare, voting and workers’ rights. Mari currently serves as LULAC Florida’s State Director, president of council 7233 and a member of the LULAC National Board.

Twitter: @maricorugedo; Facebook: MCorugedo

1. You are a mother, wife, teacher, union member, head of a state organization, and then some. How do you do it all, and do it all well?

I couldn’t do any of what I do without the support of my family. Family support is key to this type of work, and thankfully my inner circle knows how important community work is to me and how necessary it is for the greater good. To create any positive change requires so much work and they unselfishly allow me to focus my attention on social causes even if it takes time away from them.

2. What are some of your favorite time and project management tips?

Managing time and being organized is key. It is also important to stay focused on the task-at-hand even when you are getting pulled in a million different directions. Some methods I use include utilizing the Notes feature on my phone when I am in the middle of something but an important text, email or call comes in (this way I can get back to what I am doing while resting assured my Notes will be there when I am ready to move onto the next task); having “flexible focus” – meaning that if I am in the middle of a task but something that could potentially become a crisis or will affect a cause negatively occurs, that I am able and willing to shift gears and last, but certainly not least, establishing a core team of people specialized in different areas so that we can divide and conquer. In community work you don’t achieve anything by trying to be #1. It isn’t an individual effort but rather a group of us moving Florida forward.

3. There is no question that 2020 was a transformative year. As we kick-off 2021 what changes do you hope to see continuing into 2021 and what do you hope to leave behind (aside from the give-in of COVID) in 2020?

Our democracy and constitution come first, regardless of political party/affiliations. In 2021, I look forward to continuing the trends of balance, inclusivity, holding people accountable on all sides and continuing a deep dive into what policies actually mean for our communities instead of basing decisions solely on sound bites – staying on the surface and taking things only at face-value can be way more detrimental than any one of us might realize. 

More than a want, it is a must that no matter what side we stand on we all leave behind politics and policies based on untruths. We also need to reassess the notion that there are two sides to every story. Not every issue has two sides (racism included).  

4. With a passion for educational equity and environmental advocacy, what is your advice to other advocates who want to have an impact on public policy?  

My advice is to remember that it is all interconnected. If there is no collective climate, economic, educational and social justice then we can’t move forward in truly helping our communities that are most affected by these issues. Also, understanding key differences like the difference between having access to something and being able to afford it is super important. Pooling resources and working together is also critical. Let’s find a way to work together by building power and demanding truth and equity.

To really be a change agent you need to LISTEN IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE WHY and fully grasp the undercurrent of issues. I personally am a big proponent of hosting community roundtables, where you invite different organizations and then sit back and listen (and that means listening as much to people who descent with us as to those who agree with us).

5. Having been awarded Teacher of the Year and Steward of the Year, what do you think made you stand out among all of the fantastic educators out there, and what advice do you have for teachers now who are trying their best to do right by their students during such challenging times?

Well, I recently received an email from someone asking for my support for a superintendent letter he wanted to write. It turns out that he was a former (4th grade) writing student of mine and as we got to talking he told me, “You were very demanding and always challenged your students. While I used to take the challenge as a sign that you weren’t supportive of me, I now understand it was just the opposite. And, here I am now working in Congress and writing for a career which has a lot to do with you.” I love organizing and being a creator of change. Never stop doing what you love and success will come. 

For current teachers trying to find their way, especially during these unusual times, be very reflective and surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to ask, “how can we be of better service and be better leaders?” Be patient with yourself and others. Creating better situations and change is not easy. You can work for 10 years at something and not see any improvement and then finally everything you worked for comes to fruition in the 11th year. You are going to make mistakes and that is more than ok. Always stay true to yourself.

Bonus question: What/Who is keeping you “sane” these days as we acclimate to our new normal (newly discovered hobby, food, guilty pleasure, pet, spouse, etc.)?  

My two daughters, hands down, keep me going and keep me proud. As they both were able to see “advocacy in action” growing up, even assisting with my LULAC efforts, they were both moved to their own advocacy work as adults. My oldest daughter is in her last year of law school in Connecticut and making her “change agent” mark there, and my younger daughter just completed her undergraduate studies and got her first full time job. They fully believe, as I do, in PAYING IT FORWARD, which is music to an advocate mom’s ears, and all I could ever hope for! 

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