Home Leading PHOTOS: ‘It’s Just So Hard Not to Smile When We’re Doing This’

PHOTOS: ‘It’s Just So Hard Not to Smile When We’re Doing This’


I arrived to Carl Hayden High School early. Cyndi Tercero-Sandoval, the family and community engagement manager, was already there; actually, everyone was already there. The meeting—of all the Phoenix Union campus community liaisons—was sobering: The attendees recounted the significant obstacles and disturbing circumstances their students live in when they’re not at school. Cyndi, as most folks call her, led discussions on legal and effective means educators and administrators can use to assist those students. The hours passed by as they role-played scenarios to help develop rapport with students, detailed situation-specific advice, and offered emotional support.

Energy at the meeting, though several hours long, never petered out or waned. In fact, right up to lunch, everyone was completely engaged, as if this time was precious and they all wanted to get the absolute most out of it.

After lunch we all regrouped at the district resource center, a high school building converted into a supply warehouse. Pre-COVID it functioned more as a marketplace where students could select what they needed: hygiene items, school supplies, clothes, the works. Now, they dispense those items through distribution events. One of those events is what had brought us all to the facility.

As the group prepared for the distribution, a dozen cars were already lined up—some community members had arrived on foot, and Tercero-Sandoval explained that the district would drop them off at home if their rides didn’t make it in time. Between Tercero-Sandoval and all the other community liaisons, the line quickly disappeared. Pallets of supplies, food, toiletries, and other daily essentials dispersed into the trunks of grateful community members.

Tercero-Sandoval asked me if she should be more somber in my photos. “It’s just so hard not to smile when we’re doing this,” she said.

And as I looked around, it was true. The security guard who came to move a district vehicle was smiling. The folks picking up supplies were smiling. A bus driver picking up students from extracurricular activities was smiling. And even the liaisons hefting flats of canned soup into open trunks were smiling. Everyone was smiling.

Cyndi Tercero, family and community engagement manager for the Phoenix Union High School Districts, pictured at a distribution event for students and families in need at Carl Hayden High School in west Phoenix, Ariz., on Jan. 13, 2023.

— Ash Ponders for Education Week

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