LG Leads Parent Retreat

Photo Jun 21, 6 52 36 PM

Families are an important component in the teaching and learning process, and this past weekend, The Llano Grande Center emphasized that during a parent conference hosted with Ignite Public Schools.

Llano Grande facilitated Ignite’s annual two-day parent retreat this weekend in Weslaco where the focus was on transforming schools and communities through family engagement. Working with close to a dozen families and more than 40 participants, Llano Grande led participants through discussions, strategies and games that both children as young as four years old and their parents were able to participant in.

The aim of the parent retreat is meant to reflect on the past school year, as well as help develop a parent involvement component in their schools, said Ignite Student Services Coordinator Joanne Ureste. She said she considered the event a success, with more families participating than they’ve had in previous years.

The Llano Grande Center has been working with Ignite on several initiatives, including a recent student success workshop.

Photo Jun 21, 7 14 22 PMPhoto Jun 21, 7 13 00 PMPhoto Jun 21, 7 12 28 PMPhoto Jun 21, 7 09 52 PMPhoto Jun 21, 7 08 09 PM


Photo Jun 21, 7 14 31 PMPhoto Jun 21, 7 05 55 PM

LG Mural Project Begins

The Llano Grande Center classes are hoping to add some color to the streets of Edcouch-Elsa in the next few months, and a project they are working on could do just that.

As part of their semester work, the students participating in the class this year have begun a mural project, with the idea of painting a large drawing that would depict elements of Edcouch-Elsa’s history, culture and pride. An initial painting is being created on the walls of Llano Grande’s office in Edcouch-Elsa High School, with the hope that a larger-scale mural can then be painted on a large outside wall somewhere in the community.

The project was initiated earlier this spring semester after the Llano Grande students spent several weeks learning about the history of Edcouch-Elsa, and then hearing about murals from the Center’s interns Lucero Martinez and Norma Perez. Both Martinez and Perez are part of the University of Texas – Pan American’s Mexican American Studies program, and painted a mural in San Juan last year as part of their work.

Recognizing the need to share the important stories of our local history with the larger community, the students landed on the idea of a mural as a great way to not only do that, but to also beautify the community and further instill pride in our local stories. The students have scouted several possible locations for a mural in the community, but are really hoping to be able to paint the southern outside wall of the R.C. Rodriguez Elementary old gym, which faces Highway 107 and is in the middle of the community.

As part of the research for their work, the students learned about local history, discussed the importance of symbols in their work, and interviewed people in the community about the possibility for what the mural should include. Many people talked about their memories of local history, including the EE High School walkout of 1968, the citrus industry that once flourished here, and the railroad.

Painting has already begun on the smaller mural in Room A1 with the help of a donation of paint from Mr. David Cisneros who works with AkzoNobel. The goal is to have this smaller mural completed by the end of this school year, and a larger mural completed by the end of this calendar year.

LG Hosts “Leadership Camp” at Garner

It was a weekend filled with adventure, camaraderie and mentoring as a group of Edcouch-Elsa High School students participated in the Llano Grande Center’s annual Leadership Camp.

A group of eight seniors made the trip this year to Garner State Park in central Texas with Llano staff members Juan Ozuna and Marcos Silva, along with LG interns Lucero Martinez and Norma Perez. During the trip, the group engaged in several activities that help to promote Llano Grande’s principles of community, respect, resiliency, gracious space and storytelling. The young leaders also had the opportunity to speak with the staff and interns about their higher education experiences as they look forward to going to college next year.

“We’ve done this for several years now as a way to get students out of the classroom and give ourselves an open space to speak freely, and reflect about what we’ve done, as well as where we’re going,” said Ozuna. “The students really get a chance to be themselves without the pressures of school around them, they open up more to each other, and really learn a lot about themselves.”

The camp lasted for three days and two nights as the group slept in tents, helped each other with chores, hiked around the park, and swam in the Rio Frio at Garner. Another reason the Llano Grande Center has made this trip is to help broaden the horizons of students – for many in the group, this was the first time going camping.

“We really want students to get out here and appreciate nature,” said Ozuna. “We also want them to see that they really are leaders who are capable of working with adults to achieve something.”

This year’s Leadership Camp was sponsored by a grant from TG (www.tgslc.org), who have supported Llano Grande’s college prep and leadership development programs since 2011.

For more pictures of this year’s camping trip, visit our Facebook photo album here:

Llano Grande Leadership Camp at Garner SP

Llano Grande College Prep Featured in Newspaper

The work of the Llano Grande Center was featured on The Mid-Valley Town Crier’s front page today, along with our plan to “revolutionize” the way college prep happens at Edcouch-Elsa High School. You can read the story here:


The story focuses on a presentation staff members Orlando Salinas and Juan Ozuna made to the EE Independent School District School Board last week, calling for a new strategy to address college prep at EEHS. Under Llano Grande’s plan, every student at the school will be given guidance and tools to help them graduate with a plan for higher education.

LG Hosts College & Career Day

Edcouch-Elsa has a rich history filled with many people who have graduated from some of
the best colleges in the country and gone on to successful careers – something the people
of these small, rural communities are very proud of.

In that spirit, the Llano Grande Center (www.llanogrande.org) organized a College
& Career Day at Edcouch-Elsa High School, where local alumni shared their
experiences with juniors and seniors in an effort to encourage them to seek higher
education and become contributing members of this resilient community.

More than 25 presenters – most of whom are alumni of Edcouch-Elsa High School, as far back as from the Class of 1966 – attended to share the story of how people from this community care greatly about its future and want to see a new generation of young leaders become as successful as they have.

“Part of the power of this narrative is that we have generations of people who grew up
here, went on to do impressive things, and they want to contribute to the community that
raised them,” said Llano Grande Center Executive Director Dr. Francisco Guajardo. “These
presenters were once just like the students they’ll be talking to, and it’s important for the
young people to see and imagine the possibilities, especially when media messages keep
telling them their community is more mired in despair than in possibility.”

Among the alumni who presented were Lisa Prieto (EE ‘99, Stanford ‘03) who now works as Chief of Staff and Governmental Relations Officer for the President at the University of Texas – Pan American; Delia Perez (EE ‘93, Yale ‘97) who is now a Master Teacher with Monte Alto ISD; Olga Cardoso-Vasquez (EE ’01, Southwestern ’05, and leading advocate for HB 1403) who is a program director with Llano Grande; Juan Ozuna (EE ’96, Yale ’00) who is program director with Llano Grande; Joe Torres (EE ’83, UTPA ’93) who is a civil engineer with BT Infrastructure; and Oscar Gonzalez (EE ‘91, Eastern Michigan, UTPA) who is now Director of Visual Content and Operations at The Monitor newspaper.

More than 500 students at the school participated in the event, making this one of the largest college and career efforts the school has ever held.

Video: EEHS Cleanup

This past month, LLano Grande students have been organizing several events and projects to support what they see as a decline in the morale of the Edcouch-Elsa school district.

One of these projects included a clean-up of Edcouch-Elsa High School. The high school, faced with a reduction in maintenance staff, and a decrease in maintenance funding, has fallen into disrepair in the eyes of the students, who daily see trash piling up around campus. Moved to action, these students gave up a Saturday to clean up their campus and send a message that they are willing to help their school in whatever way they can.

The video below explains the cleanup:

More News

LG Students Give Advice to White House

Youth from the Llano Grande Center met in conversation with officials from the U.S. Department of Education earlier this month to provide feedback on the state of Hispanic education.

The meeting, held at the University of Texas – Brownsville campus, was part of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans (WHEEHA), which involves a series of community forums being held across the state to hear from educators and students about the barriers facing Hispanic students in U.S. classrooms.

The Llano Grande group included Vivianna Rodriguez, Niella Martinez, and Angie Rodriguez – all Edcouch-Elsa High School class of 2009 – and Nadia Casaperalta, EEHS 06, an anthropology major at Kalamazoo College who is working with the Center this summer.

During the meeting, the Llano Grande Center youth and staff held dialogues with White House officials including Juan Sepulveda, head of WHEEHA, and other local educational leaders including teachers and university presidents. Providing feedback based on their own personal stories of struggles they faced in school – particularly related to the high-stakes pressure created by the state-mandated accountability test and No Child Left Behind – the Llano Grande students brought unique perspectives into the room, especially since they were the only youth in the conversation.

According to Sepulveda, the information gathered from these dialogues will be compiled into a report that will then inform future policy recommendations made to Congress and the White House.

The Llano Grande Center has a history of becoming involved in and informing educational policy, with Center youth and staff having participated in various forums and testimonies throughout the years.

Nadia Casaperalta (EEHS 06) speaks to participants at the meeting.

Nadia Casaperalta (EEHS 06) speaks to participants at the meeting.

More News

LG Visits Hawaii For Conference

Llano Grande staff were invited to the Aloha State this summer to participate in a Place-Based Inquiry that focused on exploring indigenous methods of evaluation and assessment.

The meeting was organized by the University of Hawaii – Manoa as part of the Catalzying Community Foundations (CCF) initiative sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

As participants in the meeting, Llano Grande provided its own perpective of evaluation that attempts to move away from traditional models involving statistics, but instead focuses on deeper forms of inquiry that include storytelling – both oral and digital – and respect for local culture. Center staff even produced a digital story while at the conference to highlight the power of this medium.

The CCF is a collective of philanthropic and community change groups from Hawaii, New Mexico and Florida who will be meeting several times to explore ways of fostering greater forms of change in communities.

The Llano Grande Center will be hosting a meeting of the CCF during Summer 2010, where participants will learn to use digital storytelling as an evaluation tool.

More News

LG Youth Selected For National Advisory Board

Llano Grande student Edgar Diaz, who graduated this past June from Edcouch-Elsa High School, was selected from more than 300 national applicants to serve as an Associate Board Member for the State Farm Youth Advisory Board.

He is one of 17 youth from across the United States and Canada selected through a competitive process based on youth leadership experience and a telephone interview. The State Farm Youth Advisory Board includes students ages 17 to 20. As a leadership board, they oversee a $5 million-a-year State Farm funded initiative.

Edgar was critical in helping his school and the Llano Grande Center write the grant application for the recently awarded $100,000 Youth Advisory Board grant. Under this program, he is leading a group of students who will serve as college application mentors for the local community, providing guidance to students and their parents on the various aspects of applying to college, securing financial aid, and preparing for the transition into a new learning environment. He and his team have already partnered with the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, TX, to host a financial literacy training this summer that will benefit youth and community members by providing assistance in financial planning for college.

The Youth Advisory Board will oversee the awarding of grants to student-led service-learning projects, which will address important community issues like teen seatbelt use and disaster preparedness. They will work in a virtual environment and convene for four meetings throughout the next year. The first 2009-2010 Board meeting will be at State Farm’s Corporate Headquarters in Bloomington, Ill. on June 29.

“Education is the most important issue in the world. It provides fairness, peace and structure, but a lack of education causes abuse of power. I believe all people around the world deserve a chance to improve their education, no matter age, race, or gender.” said Edgar Diaz

Edgar will serve a one year term with the opportunity to serve an additional year. He will commit about 15 hours a month to the board. As an Associate Board Member, Edgar will receive a $3,000 scholarship. He will be considered for a second term as a board member and an additional $5,000 scholarship. Board members use the scholarships for post-secondary education at a four-year, two-year, or vocational training program.

“These exceptional students are already leaders in their communities,” said Fred Marsh with State Farm, Texas Zone Vice President of Operations. “This investment in young people reflects State Farm’s sincere commitment to tapping the passion and expertise of our younger generation.”

In February, the board awarded grants to youth-led service-learning projects that addressed disaster preparedness, driver safety, financial education, environmental responsibility and access to higher education/closing the achievement gap.

More News

LG Students Learn Finances

Fifteen Llano Grande students are participating in a financial literacy workshop hosted this week by The University of Texas-Pan American.
The training comes as part of a student-led initiative called Financial Aid and College Education Specialists (FACES), in which the students are becoming experts on the college application process in order to provide guidance to their peers and local families.
As part of the expertise they are gaining, the FACES students are learning about various topics including budgeting, saving, banking, and credit card use, essential knowledge for any graduate who is expected to take on more responsibility for themself after high school.
Students will benefit from their learning as they transition into financially independent adults, but will also be sharing their learning with other youth and community members as they launch their peer mentoring program on issues of college admissions and financial planning for college.
This training is made possible through a Hispanic Serving Institution Assisting Communities (HSIAC) grant awarded to the University of Texas Pan American

More News