CSU students mentor local Spanish-speaking high schoolers in ‘Caminos’

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Photos by Melissa Pickett

A group of 86 native Spanish-speaking Fort Collins High School students visited campus recently to cap off their fall semester experience in “Caminos,” a program in which CSU student mentors show them that attending college is a real possibility — even when they are the first in their family to do so.

Caminos, meaning pathways or roads, promotes the academic achievement of Latino/a students in FCHS literacy classes where they read, write and speak in both Spanish and English. Latina/o mentors from CSU pursuing careers in teaching, legal and science disciplines serve as role models, helping the high schoolers with their post-graduation transition through experiential and cultural learning activities. About half of the mentors are from the School of Education.

student-presenting-2Caminos is a two-year-old collaborative effort involving El Centro and the School of Education. During the program, the CSU students visit FCHS six times a semester, employing a curriculum focused on a “cultural wealth” model.

About the curriculum

Antonette Aragon, an associate professor in the School of Education, explained that the curriculum builds self-esteem and confidence related to social justice by providing learning opportunities that focus on the students’ talents, grit and experiences. She said the strength-based perspective concentrates on the assets they already possess, such as linguistic capital (serving as translators for their parents/grandparents as they navigate social institutions such as hospitals, schools and housing, for instance).

“It teaches them how to create dreams and make them a reality,” she said. “If they can see themselves in these CSU students, it can be very empowering.”

The students’ biweekly sessions are led by FCHS teachers and CSU faculty/staff, and the college students also work in groups with the high schoolers, discussing their experiences navigating their own education — in most cases as first-generation college students themselves.

caminosmentorsAt the culminating visit to campus on Dec. 1, the FCHS students presented historical law cases about and related to Latinas/os, such as Roberto Alvarez vs. The Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District, the first successful school desegregation decision in the United States, from the 1930s. They also shared personal experiences about their identity, community and future aspirations. They ate lunch in the dining halls and toured campus with their CSU mentors, visiting colleges they might be interested in.

Mentors’ comments

After the high schoolers’ presentations at the Lory Student Center, the CSU mentors offered words of encouragement.

“You will have many opportunities in the future,” said one. “You are the future.”

“You guys are going to make it, so keep powering through,” offered another.

“Often you are told that you’re young, you have a lot to learn,” said a third. “But you all teach us every day, in how you stand up for each other.”

El Centro Director Guadalupe Salazar concluded the session with a Mexican proverb: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

The School of Education is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.