Children Now Insider: Meet our Team – A Conversation with Samantha Tran

Meet our Team

A Conversation with Samantha Tran, Senior Managing Director, Education Policy

Children Now® Insider: Stories, News, And Insights On Children’s Advocacy

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October 6, 2021

On growing up in a diverse community

I grew up in East San Jose – my mom still lives in the same house she brought me home to as a baby. It was a great place to grow up. There is such diversity in language, culture, point of view. I was totally adopted by the families and extended families of my closest Filipina, Latina, and Vietnamese friends. We even had a hip-hop dance group when we were kids – I wasn’t very good at all, but those are some of the best memories! [laughs]

At the same time, far too often in my neighborhood I saw the ways in which systems were not stepping up for kids. I experienced in very direct, in your face ways how institutions criminalized kids, especially children of color, and too often disregarded their fundamental needs. It instilled in me a real focus on what our society does and doesn’t do for children. At the same time, there were adults I knew that were doing everything they could to provide opportunities, and inspiration, and I saw the benefit of that too. I think that’s part of the reason why I knew I always wanted to work in a field that supported kids.


On being a policy nerd

I went to college at the University of San Francisco. Initially, I explored teaching and worked with school aged kids in enrichment programs and at a preschool program while I was an undergrad. I love working directly with kids. At the same time, I learned that I am a serious systems/policy nerd. Growing up I had never really thought about how the decisions made from afar so directly and consequently impacted my community and our broader society.

I subsequently ended up pursuing a master’s degree at Stanford and used the opportunity to explore both education policy, as well as integrated service approaches, like Healthy Start. The issues and systems were, and are, so multifaceted and intersect in such complex ways, like one of those intricate 3-D mechanical puzzles. I was hooked.

My first job in Sacramento was at the California School Boards Association. I worked with governance teams throughout California to implement state and federal laws and policies at a local level. It was impactful work, but also reinforced for me this notion that we need to think beyond just our silo, in this case, education funding, and look at the bigger picture. How do we make sure that even when the systems we have put in place gravitate to focusing on a fraction of the problem, that we always keep in mind the holistic needs of kids, as well as the families and communities in which they live?

That’s what brought me to Children Now. That, and Ted making it clear that we planned to do big things on behalf of kids!


On working at Children Now

There are two things that excite me about Children Now. The first is the people. I really love this team. They are smart, thoughtful, have divergent backgrounds and points of view, but all align around the same fundamental goals and values – to promote equity and step up for kids. And the second is the whole child approach that we use in our work here. We’re able to go deep in specific issues, while also striving to do so in a way that looks across silos. We want to understand what the implications are for kids in foster care or children who are dual language learners, what does the transition from early learning to K-12 look like, and in what ways has the pandemic affected schools, for example. Thankfully, given the knowledge and expertise of this team we are able to push on each other’s thinking in ways that crosses sectors all the time, making the potential policy solutions and advocacy campaigns all the better for it.


On the impacts of the pandemic

The thing that keeps me up at night is when I think about what children and families have been facing over the last 18+ months. We had such deep racial and economic inequities in our state as it was, and now things have gotten so much worse. What people may not immediately realize either is that the ripple effect of this pandemic has the potential to have generational impact – now more than ever we need to do everything in our power to prioritize kids.

On the education front, I’m thrilled about the investments that were made in this year’s state budget. They were desperately needed and thank goodness we weren’t talking about budget cuts in these already difficult times. At the same time, our team is concerned that so much of that money is one-time in nature. It’s hard to make investments at the school and district level that are impactful – like hiring additional staff that can be engaged with kids for the long haul, for example – when you don’t know if this money is going come in again next year. It is essential that California build out the long-term capacity in our schools and that will require increased, ongoing funding.


On leaving policy behind

If kids had everything they needed and my job no longer existed … it’s hard to imagine not being a policy nerd, because I love systems so much. I wonder if I could get as passionate about, say, water policy or renewable energy. Maybe.

That said, the thing that comes to mind as a potential pursuit of passion would be to get deeper into Aikido (a modern Japanese martial art), which I started practicing eight years ago. I’d love to travel to different dojos around the world and learn from others in this amazing practitioner community. For now, I’m sticking to the meditation side of the art, which I can do from home.


On spending time at home

I’m actually a secret introvert, so not much really changed for me when we had to shelter-in-place. [laughs]

When I’m not working, I read, go for walks, and hang with my daughter, who just started her freshman year of high school.

We also went and got a pandemic puppy. I had a corgi and now we have another one; they have very different personalities – a little a bit of yin and whole lot of yang in the house. They are definitely keeping me busy.


On things to look forward to in 2022

You know, I am most looking forward to the day when we can safely travel again. I miss it deeply. Before this all began, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to parts of Asia and Europe, but I have so many more locations on my bucket list and places I hope to return to. Sitting at a little café, taking in the food, the people, the reminder that there are many ways to live, that is what I am most looking forward to experiencing again.

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