Sandra Cano ’99, Ed.D. ’18
Sandra Cano ’99, Ed.D. ’18 was recently featured on Spectrum News 1’s “LA Stories,” which highlights people who shape lives and create an impact throughout the community. Cano is executive director of City Year L.A., the first Latina to lead the organization.
Cano is a life-long educator who grew up in many of the communities City Year L.A. serves and understands firsthand the struggles the students and communities face. In the interview, Cano discusses her childhood, education, career and personal life — and how they are all related.
Cano’s mother immigrated to the United States from El Salvador and was a “housekeeper to the rich” in Beverly Hills. Cano grew up in South L.A., but her mother wanted her to go to school on Los Angeles’ westside; with the help of some her employers, she was able to navigate the system and get Sandra into school in West L.A.
Cano considers herself lucky to have received a quality education and wants to make sure students in neighborhoods like those in which she grew up have the same opportunities.
“I felt fortunate that I had the opportunity, but, in another way, I felt it wasn’t fair to my community, and it really made me think about what I needed to do and it really encourage me to go into public education.”
Her path to service came with some major challenges: she was presented her bachelor’s degree diploma with her two-year-old daughter in her arms. A second daughter, seven-year-old Sophia, was killed in an automobile accident while Cano was working on her doctorate.
“When you go through a difficult situation and you turn around and see the army that was behind you, you just have to return the favor. I knew what I had to do: I had to go back home to create opportunities for students that looked like me. That’s what really brought me to CityYear — because of the impact and the ability to really transform people’s lives.”
CityYear L.A. has 200 “corp members” — student success coaches and tutors — who serve 16,000 students in 28 schools in Los Angeles. The organization tries to ensure that students have the academic and emotional support they need to succeed.
Cano sees herself in the students they serve, telling them, “You can do it — I know, because I did it.”
She related a story that about a childhood event that left a big impression on her and has helped shape her strategy in supporting students: in pre-school, the children were told to bring eggs for Easter. Not realizing the eggs were to be dyed, her mother prepared cascorones, eggs filled with glitter and confetti, and the pre-schooler proudly brought them in to the class — but was then devastated when her teacher said, “that’s not what we asked for.” With that experience in mind, Cano asks, “How can we use culture and language as an asset, and not as something that will limit you.”