A Busy First Three Days with the Youth

There has not been one dull moment or down time since bright and early Monday morning!  Puente's summer youth program kicked off this week with youth orientation for the students.  What I love about this program is that Puente not only finds paid employment for students, they also give them academic support and teach them all kinds of real world skills to make them better prepared for school, the workforce, and adulthood.

Monday, we began the morning with leadership training and TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, CA. This ranch has a leadership program for youth called Gallop Ventures where students learn about overcoming fears, the kind of energy we give off as humans, how we communicate verbally and nonverbally, and working together as a team.  This was an incredible experience because although many of the students live fewer than 10 minutes from the ranch (or some ranch), many had never interacted with a horse before.  Our first few moments in the arena with (trained) horses that could roam freely were full of anxiety and tension.  Not only were many of the students meeting new friend groups and being forced to mingle with new adults, we also asked them to be comfortable being approached by an animal that could weigh over 1,000 pounds.  The horses were incredible.  They were friendly, calm, and loving toward people.  By lunch time, the students were much more comfortable with the animals, and took turns leading them through a student-designed obstacle course complete with one right-turn, one left-turn, and one obstacle that the horse had to step over.  It was amazing to see the student-transformation from fear & anxiety to calm & confident.

After lunch at the ranch, we headed to YMCA Camp Jones Gulch were we continued orientation and spent the night in the camp cabins.  [In between the ranch and the camp, I also headed to El Granada/Half Moon Bay to meet my temporary landlord and get keys to the house I will be staying in.  My landlord is an amazing lady who does wonderful things for other people, for the environment, and for real estate.]  Back at camp, orientation continued with a conversation on power and stereotypes and what it means to be Latino/a.  It was an incredible conversation that I don't recall having until well into my collegiate career.  Part of the conversation included a focus on school power dynamics.  As a teacher, it was painful to listen to this conversation about how teachers and public schools abuse or misuse their power over students.  Despite knowing and having previously experienced these dynamics already, it was hard to listen and hear some of the students' experiences.  The conversation carried over to examples of power dynamics in whole communities and how the top 1% keeps the other 99% marginalized.  While these are things I try to introduce my own students to, I don't ever recall having these very important, challenging, critical conversations until I was much older in life.  (Perhaps my white privilege would not have allowed me to hear/understand anyway?)  This particular student group knows, understands, and lives the consequences of these power dynamics every single day.  We ended the night with s'mores around a campfire and general bonding time with one another.

The second day of orientation included a conversation about life after high school and understanding the academic world the students currently occupy.  Last summer, I did a workshop with the seniors on transparency, advocacy, and empowerment; this was an exercise in transparency.  Part of the role Puente plays for these students is helping them navigate academic systems including high school and college and the job-world.  The Academic Director works to make sure students can understand their transcripts, the options, the state graduation requirements versus the school's graduation requirements versus the requirements of a four-year university.  This morning presentation included a panel of newly graduated high school seniors, one of whom was my girl Daisy, reflecting on their experience in high school.  Repeatedly I got teary-eyed as I listed to Daisy talk about her challenges and offer advice to the other high school students about what to do/not do to be successful throughout high school.  She talked about how hard she had to work her senior year to make sure she satisfied all of the requirements to graduate.  While she is absolutely correct and honest about how hard she had to work and how many challenges she overcame in her last year of high school, I could not stop beaming with pride for her.  I love that girl to absolute pieces, and she did it!  She really did it!  After the high school panel, this morning session included a college panel with college students unlike those largely known by my Noblesville High School students.  All Latino/a, these students all had very atypical collegiate experiences, most beginning in community college and several getting stuck in a cycle of remedial courses and semesters of unnecessary coursework waiting for the courses they actually needed to have space for them.  They discussed financial challenges, academic challenges, housing challenges, familial challenges, and more.  It was such an insightful panel for me to listen to even as a volunteer because it illuminated for me yet another reason why Puente does the work that they do, and why I care to participate in that effort.

In the afternoon of this last day at camp, the students worked on a philanthropy training and got to experience the challenges of deciding where to give money when presented with a variety of non-profit organizations in which they could donate.  They were also given real money to collectively donate with a small group of their peers.  The organizations they had to choose from were Puente, the American Red Cross, El Teatro Campesino, Black Lives Matter, and a local food pantry.  Four out of the five students groups chose to donate to the American Red Cross citing that what they liked about the Red Cross is that they serve all people irrespective of their race, nationality, religion, etc.  They also liked that the Red Cross stepped in when unfortunate environmental circumstances forced dire straights on families.  I found this particularly interesting given each and every one of the students participating benefit from the services of a non-profit organization that specifically serves their families.  And while Puente does not discriminate, its aim focuses on Latino/as (primarily Mexicans) who are underserved, including specifically offering services in Spanish for non-English-speaking persons.  (Incidentally, the fifth group donated to El Teatro Campesino, but admitted later that they did not fully read the description of the organization and picked it because their group was an even tie between three of the choices.)  The philanthropy workshop concluded the second day of youth orientation.  We packed our belongings, cleaned our cabins, and took a bus back to Puente after that.

Today, the third day of orientation, included sex-education and a workshop on writing resumes and cover letters and participating in interviews.  (I taught the latter workshop, and the Public Health Coordinator at Puente taught the sex education class.)  The youth also got to meet the entire Puente staff today as well.  We concluded the day with Child Protective Services training provided by the mental health & wellness team of Puente's staff and also with etiquette and service training.  Many of the Puente students will be working at summer camps with younger children, which required the CPS training.  Others will be serving families and/or working in the Puente office, which required the service and etiquette training (on answering phones, what to do when you don't know the answer to someone's question, etc.)  Today was a reminder for me of how comprehensive Puente's summer youth program is.  As if the first two days of orientation didn't paint a clear enough picture, this third day extended the reminder.  This kind of comprehensive training, which my students likely take for granted or get taught by their families, is critical to being successful  as an independent adult.  I am so thankful for programs like Puente's that help fill in the gaps where families are not necessarily equipped to teach these skills.  To conclude my day, I met briefly with the Executive Director of Puente and then with the Program Director/Assistant Director of Operations (or something like that...I butchered that title I'm sure).  We touched base about my responsibilities for the remainder of the summer as the students go off to their work programs, and I begin working in a more one-on-one capacity (or small group capacity) with them to go over transcripts, work in literature circles on their summer reading for school, etc.  It has been an incredibly full and exhausting three days!

As I write this now, I am sitting in Foster City in a laundromat doing my laundry from the last week (of driving, camping, working out, sleeping at the cat-house, etc.).  I had the most amazing Chile Verde con Arroz for lunch today (can we say homemade Mexican food????) that is unfortunately not agreeing with my stomach.  I think I enjoyed the spicy food a little too much when I went back for seconds.  :)  Once I finish my laundry, I will be off to home for a good night's rest before my final full day of orientation.  The students have CPR and First Aid training on Friday, but I will not participate in that as I have fulfilled my hours this week and have other things to work on.  I will keep you posted, and thank you to those who made it to the end of this lengthy post about my last few days.