Archive for the ‘Advisor Post’ Category

New York City!



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


Peer Mentoring

Middle School Migrant Leaders Club - October 2013

Middle School Migrant Leaders Club – October 2013

“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

DreamFields Now for Sale Online!

We’re happy to report that DreamFields can now be purchased online! Simply click on the picture of our book below, or go to and look for DreamFields in the book section. Today is a big day for us. We will now begin marketing the book as we’ve always wished we could. Please help us spread the word!


Click here to buy the book

Fall Update

After a summer of picking berries in the fields of Mount Vernon, we are now back at school and ready to pick up where we left off.

You might remember that, back in June, a small group of us attended a week-long video camp at Reel Grrls in Seattle. While there, we produced a short video titled “Field Dreamers”. (You can find it under “Internet Links” on the right side of this page.) Our collaboration with Reel Grrls is so cool and we want to do many more things with them this year. They like that idea too!

You might also remember that one of us took DreamFields to Washington DC in June and delivered copies of the book to several important politicians. We couldn’t believe it when we heard that she had successfully completed our most important goal – she delivered a copy of DreamFields to Obama’s staff where she received a promise that Obama would receive the book! We still can’t really believe it. Our stories are being read in the White House.

Meanwhile, back at home, our struggles continue, but so does our determination.

We sold our last copies of DreamFields at the end of June and so far we haven’t been able to print any more. This has been frustrating because the demand for the book has been growing. We have received requests for the book from as far away as Montreal and Kentucky, but we have been unable to fill orders. However, it looks like we have found a solution and we should have DreamFields available on Amazon by the end of this month. Stay tuned.

We have received several invitations for local speaking engagements this year. Since most of us are no longer at the middle schools with Ms. Blackmore, we are trying to create a Migrant Leaders Club at the high school so we can continue educating our community about our lives as migrant students. Once our club is up and running, we will let you know what our plans are for this year.

Thanks so much to all of you for your support of our book. We would love to hear from you!

For pictures from the Washington DC trip, see our Photo Gallery tab at the top of this page.

For a list of the decision-makers who received the book in Washington DC, see below:
President Barack Obama (via Cecelia Muñoz, Director, White House Domestic Policy Council)
Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security (via White House office)
Senator Maria Cantwell – Washington State (given directly to her)
Senator Patty Murray – Washington State (given directly to her)
Representative Luis Gutierrez – Illinois (via his aide)
Representative Rick Larsen – Washington State (given directly to him)
Representative Jim McDermott – Washington State (given directly to him)
Representative Catherine McMorris Rogers – Washington State (given directly to her)
Tyler Moran – Deputy Policy Director for Immigration, White House Domestic Policy Council
Scott Buckhout – White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Cynthia Martinez – Activist/Organizer, National Immigrant Youth Alliance
Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferst Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
Rev. Canon Anthony Guillen, Officer for Latino/Hispanic Ministries of the Episcopal Church
Katie Conway, Immigration and Refugee Policy Analyst for the Episcopal Church/Office of Government Relations

DreamFields Heads to the White House

Today we learned that a Mount Vernon migrant student (one of us!) will be flying to Washington DC this coming week to attend the National DREAM Act Graduation on Tuesday (if you’ve read the book, you’ve met Rosa – it’s her 19-year old sister). This yearly symbolic event is attended by Dreamers and their supporters from all over the country. Can you imagine how historical this year’s event will be after Obama’s recent announcement? It’s hard to believe that one of us will be there to witness it. Not only that, but she will be carrying DreamFields with her and presenting our book personally to Washington Congressmen and Senators (Cantwell, Murray, Larsen, McDermott). She will even be giving a copy of the book to an organization with direct access to President Obama!!! We’ve dreamed of putting our book in the hands of important decision-makers, and that dream is about to come true. Huge thanks to Rev. Jo Beecher who had the dream of attending this event, and then expanded her vision to include one of us and our book! Thank you also to members of the community who are helping to pay for the trip. See “Ways to Help” above if you would also like to help. Stay tuned here for pictures!

More information on Obama’s recent directive:

Obama’s Life-Changing Directive

What an exciting week! Obama’s announcement on Friday has changed everything for many of us. Imagine – a social security card! A real job! Walking around without fear of being taken by la migra! We celebrated with our families and then attended a local press conference on Monday where we talked about our excitement and also learned about the details of the application process that will begin in the next few months. In the picture above you will see Alma from the book, third from left. Several of us sat on stage and shared with the audience our emotions and dreams. Back in 2010, several of us attended a press conference in the same location as we mourned the fact that the Dream Act did not pass. At the 2010 press conference, we all wore bandanas over our faces to protect our identities and undocumented status (there’s a picture in the book). This week, there were no bandanas and we all proudly showed our faces as we sat behind signs that read, “Undocumented. Unafraid.”

This is a very exciting time for us!

Here’s the full newspaper article from the Skagit Valley Herald, Tuesday, 6/19/12:


Local undocumented students happy with Obama’s decision


MOUNT VERNON — One student wants to be a doctor, another a chef, and still another hopes to go to college. All say they’re relieved by President Obama’s decision last week to sign an executive order halting the deportations of young people like them.

A group of 13 students gathered Monday afternoon at a local church to talk about how the president’s decision and the Department of Homeland Security’s policy change toward the children of illegal immigrants could affect their futures.

“It’s going to change my life,” said student Maria Macedo of the policy change. Now, if she is approved and receives a work permit, she will help her parents and, she said, “… have the opportunity to complete my dreams.”

Macedo and the others openly told their stories Monday evening while smiling over two handwritten signs reading: Unafraid, Undocumented. Their openness was in stark contrast to a 2010 gathering when local students advocating for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act covered their faces with bandannas to conceal their identities.

The DREAM Act would allow people who grew up in the United States and graduated from high school to gain temporary residency and then possible permanent residency after six years.    Though the DREAM Act has stalled in Congress, President Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced Friday that young people eligible for the provisions of the DREAM Act can currently receive relief from deportation on a caseby-case basis. The new mandate would not lead to citizenship, but participants could receive a work permit good for two years, subject to renewal.

“I couldn’t really believe it,” said student Marceina Mendoza about hearing the news. “… I just feel so much relief.”

This new mandate calls for young people to satisfy certain requirements for relief from deportation and approval for a work permit. Participants must have come to the U.S. before the age of 16 and be 30 or younger, have lived in the United States since at least June 15, 2007, and be currently enrolled in school, have graduated, earned a GED or been honorably discharged from the military.

A clean record also is a must. The mandate will allow Homeland Security to focus resources on higher priority cases, including illegal immigrants with felonies, according to a memo from Homeland Security.

The mandate is a step in the right direction, said Carol Edward, an immigration attorney associated with the Washington State Chapter of American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“It doesn’t help students very much if they don’t have a way to work and support themselves,” she told the crowd Monday.

But under the happiness and relief lingers uncertainty, and some fear that this opportunity could be taken away.

“Now (Obama’s) saying specifically that the dreamers are not going to be deported, but how it’s going to play out is not clear,” said the Rev. Jo Beecher of the Skagit Immigrant Rights Council that sponsored Monday’s gathering along with several other immigrant advocates.

Though there are certain guidelines, the procedures will not be known until August, she said. Information from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services advises people not to apply yet, as the process is not yet ready.

The mandate is not a change in law, so there’s the risk that the order could be rescinded by another administration, and also the chance that undocumented students seeking deportation relief could be hurt by unscrupulous or incompetent people offering help, Beecher said.

The Skagit Immigrant Rights Council and its allies are planning workshops and meetings to help answer questions and assist people through the process.

“It’s really the kids,” Beecher said. “They’re willing to take the risks and be out there and say, this is the right thing.”

Erinn Unger can be reached at 360-416-2141 or eunger@skagitpub Follow her on Twitter at

DreamFields for your Kindle or iPad

Please contact us if you would like to purchase DreamFields for your Kindle or iPad – only $10.


New Pictures in Photo Gallery

Check out what we’ve been up to by looking at our new pictures in the photo gallery!

The Birth of a Book

Having never edited a book before, I had no idea how much work it entailed; my husband and I have done little else for the last month as we pushed to complete this project begun back in 2010. The students who dreamed this book into being are giddy with excitement because in two days we will hold the book in our hands.

I had thought that rest would come with the completion of this project, but I’m beginning to realize that we are just getting started. Orders are rolling in and the students are being invited to more events than they can keep up with. It seems that there is a strong interest in the students’ lives. Now we cross our fingers and hope that we have created an experience that will educate and excite our local community.

May the excitement spread like wild fire.

Janice Blackmore, Migrant Leaders Club Advisor