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Friday, October 25, 2013

I came into Prescott College right after High School, and was intrigued by the Cultural and Regional Studies Program, hoping to travel. The first opportunity to travel however, besides an amazing orientation, was to Kino Bay, which brought me into the Environmental Studies Program.  The semester-long Marine Biology course re-sparked my love of the outdoors and particularly the ocean. It also just got me stoked on learning (high school had turned me off). I felt like a nerd and loved it. My newfound inspiration about learning led me to spend the next year on campus in Prescott taking Education courses. This also provided me some amazing experiences and opportunities, but by the end I was ready to go back to the beach. Only with ample encouragement from my mom, did I sign up for a class on activism for the block. I had wanted to just keep up my summer traveling until the Marine Conservation course was going to start, but I decided to trust my mom and do something I was not familiar with...Mamma knows best.
The block course that I took focused on the DREAM act Campaign, where eight young people walked across the country promoting the act and sharing their stories about growing up in the U.S. either with family members who were undocumented or being undocumented themselves. Our class joined the walkers for four days out of their nine month journey. It was so inspiring and motivating to hear their stories first-hand and get a taste of what it was like to be so dedicated something so important. This class stoked my fire for learning again. I rode this wave of motivation back down to Kino and all through the Marine Conservation semester, and realized how much being excited about something helps you to learn it. Similar to my block class, this course focused on getting involved with projects already underway. However, we also created new projects. Being able to contribute to community organizing that was already in action, and being part of the creation process was so empowering. I was not only getting knowledge, but also experience in what it would actually be like to work in the conservation field. I was not only enjoying and learning from this awesome place, but also giving back to it. I didn’t think any other course I would take could compare…Until I did the Tucson Social Justice Education Semester. Leaving Kino was hard, but I knew my next semester would be good because it was taught by the same wonderful professor that taught my previous block class (the DREAM act one).
Going into this course I didn’t know what to expect. I had also never been to Tucson before, which made it even more exciting. I soon realized that the reason we went to Tucson was because it has a much more diverse population, and the injustices in schools, and in all aspects of life for that matter, are much clearer. For this reason, it also has a lot more going on in terms of activism. We got to work with youth-run organizations, well-known activists and authors, and dedicated community members. The course was centered on the former Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program of the Tucson School District and its completely unjust removal. The MAS Program, based in a place with a majority population f Mexican Americans, gave voice to their previously silenced history and culture. It proved to not only increase the students test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance rates, but also the student’s self-esteem, autonomy, and self-motivation. Not to mention how much it changed the student’s attitudes about learning. For example, when the program was cut, one of the teachers offered his class on Sundays in the community center, and all of his students came to learn in their free time!
Throughout the semester, we worked with those students a lot, helping them with projects and events they put together, exemplifying their self-determination and passion for community organizing.  We contributed to many groups and organizations directly and indirectly relating to the MAS program, such as Scholarship AZ, which helps undocumented citizens (usually students who grew up in the US) get scholarships to college. We also worked with a youth center that provided a safe space for youth of the city to come after school and get involved in activities such as dancing, arts and crafts, and martial arts. This organization also encouraged youth to create their own activities based on their unique passions. For example one young woman created a feminist group to help herself and her peers learn about how to stay safe in a big city and be empowered as a woman. Many members of my class, including myself, attended her meetings and brought in our experiences and advice as mentors.
Interacting with the local community helped us to get an understanding of the place we were working, and of the work of community organizers/activists. A big lesson from the semester for me was how teachers are inherently revolutionaries, shaping the minds and lives of the future. Despite all of our truly unique experiences (too many to mention), I think one of the best parts of the semester was how our teachers modeled the methods and theories that they taught. Borrowing from the pedagogy and epistemologies of the MAS program, our teachers took the time to get to know us and provided the space to know ourselves and each other. We shared our life stories through creative narratives, and read and discussed some of the many books that the Tucson Unified School District had banned along with the MAS program. We discovered that in doing this we were validating the experiences of oppressed people and realizing how those stories are necessary to understanding the reality of our current and past world. 
In all of the courses I briefly described, my world view was changed. The teachers have become my mentors and friends. My perspective on life was widened, sometimes with harsh realities, but always with a strong sense of hope. The courses fed my awareness, experience, and motivation in ways that have inspired me to keep working in these important fields and to always keep learning.

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