Pre-school teacher Sol Camano didn’t think teaching was in the cards for her, even though her mother is a teacher. Growing up in Los Angeles, she had wanted to be an actress.
But after two years at community college in Los Angeles, she spent a summer volunteering at a refugee support organization in Greece and everything changed. After coordinating all the children’s programming in the refugee camp, she was hooked.
“I just fell in love with all those little faces and learned a great deal about the inequalities migrants face coming to a new country and the lack of educational resources to support them,” she said. “I decided one way I could make a difference in my community was to teach. So I dove back into my education with passion and grit and got my teaching degree. Best decision I ever made.”
At age 21, she moved to Chicago and enrolled at Columbia College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. She began teaching preschool at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy in 2019, just weeks before the historic CTU strike.
The daughter of Argentinian parents, Camano did not speak English until she started school in California at age four. But summers spent at her grandparents house in Argentina helped her keep her native language, which she now speaks all day to her preschoolers in Prieto’s dual language program.
“After moving away for college, I fell away from the Latin community and my native language,” she said. “I honestly didn’t know how much I missed and needed it until I started working at Prieto. Through teaching, I rediscovered my culture and identity and found my voice again.”
Now, she said, “being bilingual es mi superpoder.”
Camano said she loves her school and feels very fortunate to have been welcomed there as a brand new teacher by her colleagues, the administration and the mostly Latine Belmont Cragin families the school serves. But just four weeks after she began work, then Mayor Lori Lightfoot pushed teachers out on strike.
“It was definitely difficult to be catapulted into something like that so soon, but I immediately felt like I belonged,” she said. “Ever since that strike, I have attempted to be brave and speak out for my fellow staff members, families and students.”
She faced another opportunity to speak out in 2021, when Lightfoot mandated in-person school without proper safety measures during the pandemic. Camano and other CTU members chose to teach remotely outside, in the frigid Chicago winter, instead of in an unsafe building to protect themselves and their students from COVID.
“We had an outside crew with blankets, mugs, and laptops with little boxes of children smiling back at us,” she said.
This year, Camano has been utilizing her “superpower” to support the newcomers who have been bused in increasing numbers to Chicago as a political tactic by anti-immigrant governors. She began coordinating activities for children at the hotels where many new migrant families were being housed, bringing art supplies, games, and books.
She also has been volunteering with a group of teachers and community members at the “Free Store” in Bridgeport, helping to organize clothing, toiletries and other supplies as well as at Instituto del Progresso Latino with food distributions.
“We are living in times of crisis—environmental, migratory, political and financial crisis—and our city is being inundated daily by more people seeking refuge, security and a place to call home. But they are being met with barriers and inhumanity,” she said. “I find it impossible to look away from these things when families are sleeping on the floors of police stations, unable to shower daily or eat a decent meal inside. We must do better.”
Prieto serves many newcomer students, who arrive at the school speaking only Spanish. But, Camano wants to see more equity for non-English speaking students and families.
“These students deserve the same level of instruction, books, materials and educational resources that English learners receive,” she said. “And there is a huge divide even for bilingual teachers. The amount of extra work we have to put in so that our students learn wholesome content and have access to high quality materials is a full time job on its own.”
But it’s a job she loves.
“I love seeing my little smiling preschoolers every morning, listening to them talk about everything under the sun,” she said. “And teaching in my native language of Spanish brings me so much joy,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”