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:
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.
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.
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.