Check out club member Luis Lopez’s senior project video featuring a rap by club member Eber Rivera.
Check out club member Luis Lopez’s senior project video featuring a rap by club member Eber Rivera.
At the end of March, ten high school migrant students from the Mount Vernon Migrant Leaders Club traveled to New York City to learn about a day in the life of Latino teenagers living in the Bronx. The students had dreamed of this trip for years and our arrival in the city represented the pinnacle of their extraordinary ability to turn big dreams into reality.
We lived and breathed as much of the city as possible during our four days there.
We arrived about 6:00pm and were met at our hotel in the Bronx by staff and students from our sponsoring high school. They immediately pushed us onto the subway and within minutes we were in the middle of Time Square. The bright lights, crowds, and noise were so overwhelming that the Mount Vernon students literally screamed in excitement. After soaking up the city’s energy, watching teenage street performers, and seeing our faces projected onto billboards, we ate dinner outside in Bryant Park. We crossed Park Avenue to tour Grand Central Station before heading back to our hotel.
We spent our first full day at Explorations Academy, a high school in the Bronx. We observed AP classes, exchanged personal stories with students, talked at length with the beautifully diverse staff, danced bachata & cumbia, played volleyball with students, ate New York pizza, and basically never wanted to leave. After school, we had dinner at a student’s home so we could see how families in the Bronx live. Our conversations over dinner were deep, intimate, and intense. The students compared nearly every element of their lives, finding just as many commonalities as they did differences. Back at our hotel, as the rain poured down outside, we decided to head into the city to check out Fifth Avenue. We mastered getting twelve people on and off the subway, grabbed hot chocolate to help us with the cold, saw Carnegie Hall & Radio City Music Hall, pretended we were staying at the Plaza Hotel (one student was even given an umbrella by the doorman as we left the hotel), visited the Apple Store, the Trump Tower, and spent way too long at Forever 21.
Day two found us at the Bronx’s Angelo Patri Middle School where we talked about our lives with several large groups of students, discussed US child labor with the incredibly welcoming staff, learned about immigration to NYC from the Dominican Republic over a delicious Dominican lunch, and enjoyed speaking Spanish with the Panamanian principal. After school, we walked to the Kelly Street Gardening Project to meet the director, Rosalba Lopez, a Mixtec woman from Madera, California, with a story very similar to that of the Mount Vernon students. After a tour of the gardens and a neighborhood history lesson by local residents, Rosalba and the students shared stories. For dinner, we took over a local Oaxacan restaurant where we enjoyed incredible food and conversation with the owners and their son. In a very special moment, we offered them the gift of our DreamFields book, while they offered us the gift of their book, Shadows Then Light, about their son’s role as an activist for the rights of undocumented youth in the US. The family was incredibly inspirational to all of us.
We reserved our third day for sight-seeing! We had a long list of sights to see and we did it all. We took the subway to Brooklyn and began the day by walking into the city across the Brooklyn Bridge. From there, we walked to the 9/11 Museum, St. Paul’s Chapel, Wall Street, South Street Seaport, Chinatown (for lunch), Little Italy, NYU, Greenwich Village, and Union Square. In Union Square we met up with a Zapotec woman, Julieta Mendez, originally from California, who works to support non-profits across the globe. She took us on a tour of her office, shared her story, and even sang “La Llorona”. From there, we jumped on the subway and headed to Columbia University where we received a tour and visited the Teachers College. As darkness and exhaustion set in, we jumped back on the subway for our final stop of the day – the Empire State Building. The views from the top were spectacular, the perfect culmination to an amazing day.
On our final day, we had a few hours before we needed to be at the airport, so we made one last trip into the city to explore Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After a quick lunch of Greek gyros, a first for the students, we said our good byes and headed to the airport.
The trip was absolutely life-changing and unforgettable. Some of the Mount Vernon students are ready to move to New York City and are seriously considering college there. Others were shell-shocked and couldn’t wait to get back to their comfort zone in Mount Vernon. Regardless of their reactions to the city, however, they all now see the world differently and more fully. Their sense of possibility has exploded. I can’t wait to see which of their dreams will come true next!
– Janice Blackmore, Adviser
We have been so busy over the last year and a half, that we have neglected our website! Stay tuned for coming posts about our trips to San Antonio, Seattle, and New York City, thanks to our new website coordinator, Angel Santos Bazante!
“You are never strong enough that you don’t need help.” Cesar Chavez
Peer mentoring is a vital piece to the work that I am doing with migrant students in Mount Vernon. People often hear our students speak in public and comment on how amazing they are. They are blown away by their bravery, their poise, their passion. It is easy to forget that behind this handful of dedicated public speakers stands a crowd of migrant students supporting them and aspiring to be more like them.
My work with migrant students begins in the 7th grade. Students are encouraged to find their voice, speak their truth, and feel pride in themselves. Not all students are destined to become public speakers, so we explore many different forms of personal expression, following the students’ interests. The middle school students watch the high school students aim high, work hard, and reap the rewards. They wait anxiously for their turn. I constantly provide students with opportunities to stretch themselves, so that when the big opportunity presents itself, they feel ready. This formula has worked well for us.
One example of this form of mentoring happened quite naturally over the last month. In November, four middle school students accompanied me to Western Washington University (WWU) to teach one session of a college class on how to work with migrant students. This is an opportunity that I provide twice a year to middle school students who are interested, always bringing new students who have never attended. This is a coveted trip and students who have done it in the past will encourage new students to try it. “Just try it! It’s cool!” This is typically a student’s first experience telling his or her story in public. It is a safe classroom environment, about 25 college students divided into two groups, so the students are presenting to about 13 people. There are always tears, from both the middle school and college students, as the kids begin to share heartbreak and trauma about which they have never spoken out loud. Often, once they start speaking, they can’t stop. This was the case again this year. Last week, at our Migrant Youth Leadership Conference at WWU, attended by over a hundred local migrant students from all over the area, three of our Mount Vernon high school students told their stories in front of the large audience. Inspired by them, one of the 7th grade students who had helped teach the college class stood up and told his story to all in attendance. His nervousness was obvious, but he was inspired and motivated. His pride and passion overtook his nerves. A new public speaker was born.
Not all migrant students crave the limelight. Behind every small group of students who travels across the country to present is a large group of students who have helped fund raise, organize details, and overall support the participating students. I would hate for those amazing students to be overlooked. The picture I have included above shows our Mount Vernon middle school students this year. We have many more students who have already moved on to the high school and continue to be involved in the work that we do.
The Mount Vernon Migrant Leaders Club provides migrant students with a safe place to explore who they are and where they want to go. Students participate at varying levels and truly engage only when they are ready. The club offers constant and varied opportunities for engagement so that students can decide their own pace. Some students engage in the 7th grade, others as juniors in high school. It’s never too late, and once students decide they’re ready, they will find a large support network of inspiring, motivated migrant students prepared to support them on their journey.
People often ask me how I get my students to write or speak about their lives. The answer lies in this peer mentoring model that I have just described. The motivation does not come from me. I provide the opportunities, but the students themselves provide the motivation.
Janice Blackmore, Migrant Leaders Club Adviser
Last week, we awarded $3000 in scholarship money to two of our peers at the annual Champions of Diversity Awards Ceremony. This was the second year in a row that we were able to stand up on that stage and help our friends get to college.
As most of you know, a portion of the proceeds from DreamFields goes toward scholarships for local migrant students. Last week, Lucia and Martha, juniors at MVHS, presented a $1500 scholarship to both Mount Vernon High School student Chayan Sanchez and Burlington-Edison High School student Elizabeth Sanchez.
Last year we awarded $1500 in scholarship money. We’re very proud of the fact that we doubled that amount to $3000 this year. With your help we could add one more scholarship for next year, for a total of $4500. Will you help us? Please buy a book today, and then spread the word!
For more information about Skagit Valley College’s Champions of Diversity, please click here: https://www.skagit.edu/directory.asp_Q_pagenumber_E_321
In September, six young women from the high school traveled to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to be the keynote presenters at Kentucky’s State Migrant Conference. What an incredible honor to be invited to a conference of this kind! The trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience due to the incredible reception we received from the migrant staff and students in Kentucky.
Our first stop was Western Kentucky University where we walked around campus and began to learn a little about Kentucky and its people. Next we checked into our hotel and met the Kentucky migrant students who would join us for the next couple of days. We became fast friends and even learned that one of us was related to one of them, our families coming from the same pueblo in Oaxaca.
Next we prepared for our keynote presentation and two workshops we would do on the healing power of personal stories. Our prep routine is vigorous since we take our presentations very seriously. Imagine a debate team prepping for a debate; that is a bit what we look like when we’re preparing for our presentations. We give our speeches over and over and over again, to each other, to Ms. Blackmore, to ourselves in the mirror, until we get it just right. We spend hours doing this in our hotel rooms the night before our big day.
Our presentations went really, really well. We enjoyed having the Kentucky migrant students with us throughout the process, even helping us with our workshops. One unexpected surprise came when the Kentucky migrant students showed us a documentary that they had made over the summer modeled after our documentary, but spotlighting many of the migrant students in Kentucky. Our book, DreamFields, had been purchased for all of the Kentucky migrant students who attended their state summer conference, as well as for every adult attendee at the State Migrant Conference. It was incredible to see that we had inspired so many people so far away from where we live. Watching their documentary was an emotional moment.
After we were done with the conference and said good bye to our many new friends, we explored Mammoth Cave National Park, visited the National Corvette Museum, and then hit the mall in Nashville, Tennessee. Throughout the trip, we tried new food: southern food at Cracker Barrel, Japanese food at a hibachi restaurant, and meat, meat, meat everywhere we went. People in Kentucky like to eat meat!
We returned to Washington feeling more inspired than ever to tell our stories because we saw firsthand how our stories had changed the lives of our new friends in Kentucky. We would love to find a way to incorporate the migrant students in Kentucky into the work that we are doing. We’re already busy planning our next step – as always we’re planning something BIG!
To see us in action in Kentucky, click this link:
In June of 2013, while the middle school students were at Reel Grrls in Seattle, six high school students spent two days in Ellensburg, Washington, about 100 miles east of Seattle. They were invited to be the keynote speakers at the 21st Century Community Learning Center’s Summer Institute held at Central Washington University. The students gave a phenomenal keynote presentation, and then conducted two workshops on the healing power of personal stories. The audience included staff from all over the state who work with students in after-school programs. Many participants talked of being inspired by the students and wanting to have the students as guests at their schools to provide professional development for teachers, as well as inspirational assemblies for their students.
Although the visit was a short one, we still managed to fit in some learning experiences and some FUN! We spent the night in the CWU dorms, we conquered an intense high ropes course, and we toured the campus.
Thanks to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program for believing in us and allowing us to take part in such a meaningful event!