When Camila Correa Bourdeau moved to Texas and started volunteering for school board campaigns, what she learned shocked her. Few people voted.
That discovery, along with a love for working in classrooms, led her to volunteer for the civic engagement organization she now leads.
Correa Bourdeau, 35, is the executive director of March To The Polls, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase voter participation and turnout with underrepresented people. The nonprofit has more than 2,000 volunteers across North Texas, including Tarrant County and Fort Worth.
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Texas requires schools to educate and make voter registration available to eligible students. Correa Bourdeau’s organization meets with district leadership to make sure they comply with the requirements. The innovation, she said, is that they make sure students feel confident in voting for the first time.
“It’s not just this transaction of here’s this form, fill it out, now you can vote,” Correa Bourdeau said. “It’s like, where do you vote? When are you voting? Just like the basics.”
The gaps in education
Correa Bourdeau knows how to navigate a classroom. Both of her parents were teachers in Chile, where Correa Bourdeau spent a portion of her childhood. Her parents eventually were recruited to teach Spanish in New Orleans and Texas.
But she doesn’t credit her parents for leading her to the classroom. It wasn’t until a visit from a recruiter from the University of Texas UTeach Institute that she decided to pursue a teaching career. The recruiter emphasized the importance of teaching and the gaps students have depending on what school they went to. Correau Bourdeau said she experienced that gap.
“If I went to public school in Chile, chances of me doing well were more slim,” Correa Bourdeau said. “Then when we moved to New Orleans, we were in a very, very, very poor neighborhood. Lots of crime, a really bad school system.”
As Correa Bourdeau entered the teaching profession in New York City, she noticed the gap again. She switched teaching jobs after struggling at a school and eventually learned the school shut down.
“That was a life-altering moment when I realized how important leadership is, and at all levels,” she said.
The principal at her new job inspired her – everything was exciting. She said she tries to carry that energy to her new job. Her background in studying and teaching history reminds her of the events that were impacted by civically involved people, she said.
Getting young people to the polls
A positive impact for Correa Bourdeau is getting people excited about voting.
Jessica Lugo, program manager for the student voter empowerment club at March to the Polls, said Correa Bourdeau worked closely with her to provide the best opportunities for students.
Recently, Correa Bourdeau brought forth the concept for students making presentations about civics to engage others, instead of purely adult volunteers.
“Her idea is if students are teaching other students in their communities … with the same general backgrounds and experiences, if they’re teaching their peers about the power and influence that they can have, it’s a lot more powerful,” Lugo said. “And she’s really advocated for that.”
As a leader, Correa Bourdeau makes sure everyone is heard and understood, Lugo said. While Correa Bourdeau isn’t from Fort Worth, she makes sure the volunteers working in the area are.
“She understands that she doesn’t know everything about every community in the Metroplex,” Lugo said. “And she relies on a lot of other people to help her get a better understanding and a better sense of what it’s like to live in Tarrant County or even different parts of Tarrant County.”
Eric Cedillo is an attorney and clinical professor at Southern Methodist University and board president at March to the Polls. He said Correa Bourdeau has set up the organization for success in a short amount of time since she took her role as executive director. Cedillo describes her as someone who communicates effectively and is decisive. She also has the heart for the work, Cedillo said.
“She just has a sense for talking and dealing with young people, especially of color,” he said. “She just has an ease about her that kind of provides an ease for people to be accepting and understanding of what she’s kind of bringing to the table.”
Correa Bourdeau said students are interested in voting. It’s just a matter of making the topic relatable, she said. She uses examples of how school boards impact them — like when they start school, school lunches. Their civic engagement clubs bring students on field trips to school board meetings.
“I think when they see it in action, or hear a school board meeting discussion, then they’re like, ‘dang, they’re talking about all these things,’” she said. “And then they realize, ‘Oh, like, that’s who’s representing me right now in my school or my community. And this is why it’s so important for me to pay attention.’”
Many times, students will tell them what is interesting to them — like dress code.
As March to the Polls expands to districts across North Texas including Fort Worth, Correa Bourdeau said she dreams that people will be more supportive of getting young people to the polls.
“I would hope that when we say, hey, you know, we’re gonna get people excited about voting in this community, that everybody is excited about that and supportive of that effort,” she said. “Without thinking that there’s, like, any negative consequences of that. I think that’s my hope.”
Camila Correa Bourdeau bio:
Birthplace: Santiago, Chile
Family: “I live with my husband and our two baby girls; moved to Texas from Chile with my parents and three brothers. The rest of our family is in Chile.”
Education: University of Texas at Austin for undergraduate degree and Hunter College for graduate degree
Work experience: Teacher, instructional coach, nonprofit executive director for seven years
Volunteer experience: student mentor, teacher policy group, Citizen Election Advisory Council
First job: Teacher in New York City
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Be confident – your ideas and lived experiences matter just as much as those of the person sitting next to you.
Best advice ever received: Keep your chin up and don’t quit on your worst day.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @sbodine120.
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