Welcome to the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project's blog! Our blog is a way for us to connect with students and quickly inform you of educational opportunities particular to Latino students in Washington state. This blog will feature guest LEAPster who will write about their leadership experiences with LEAP. They will answer questions and provide advice.

This space is also open to showcasing your poems, videos, essays, photos, or other creative mediums. Let us know about your leadership involvement or tell us about the great work someone is doing in your school/community. For more information on LEAP, visit our website at www.leapwa.org

Friday, February 25, 2011

Summary of the 2010 LEAP Conference

Last year we began drafting this article to serve as our annual newsletter. With the transition to Sea Mar we overlooked this. As we were thinking about the 2011 LEAP Conference and its current postponement, it got us thinking nostalgically at the 2010 LEAP Conference. We hope you enjoy this article and gets you excited for the conference coming up March 10-12.



More than 400 students and over 560 participants from around the state attended the 10th Annual Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP) Conference and Legislative Day held on February 18-20 in Tacoma and Olympia, Washington. Students and other attendees from all over Washington state arrived at the beautiful Hotel Murano in Tacoma, where they were welcomed by Colores Unidos, a dancing group from Edmonds School District.

The conference opened strong with students chanting their school pride and walking around the ballroom in similar fashion to the Olympic Opening. LEAP Conference Coordinator, Bárbara Guzmán and LEAP intern, Luis Ortega welcomed conference participants. The 10th annual conference had a new feel and was focused primarily on the students. This was expressed by the conference theme of: Estudiantes unidos para un mejor futuro…ahora! (Students united for a better future…today!).

As a preview for activities to come, a slide show presentation of el Chacal from Sabado Gigante, was shown.

“Why go to college? Because a lot of us are fighting hard to change the law.” This was quoted from Dr. Roberto Gonzales, Assistant Professor of Social Work from the University of Washington, the first speaker of the conference. Dr. Gonzales was able to educate conference participants on the complex situation of undocumented students. He is regarded as a national expert on undocumented students based on his report, Young Lives on Hold: The College Dreams of Undocumented Students, for the College Board. While students listened, Dr. Gonzales spoke informally to students about the history of immigration and causes for the spike in unauthorized immigration. Dr. Gonzalez stated that, “immigration laws today do not match problems we have today in our community” and “demand for labor didn’t change [with globalization], what changed were our laws.”

Dr. Gonzales shared the stories of students he has met, mentored and researched over18 years of work in Chicago, L.A. and Seattle. He spoke of his most notable example, a young woman who completed her Bachelor’s degree, studied to become a teacher, received her Masters, and within a few days of completing her first year of student teaching, received her permanent residence ID card in the mail. Dr. Gonzalez went on to ask, “…when that change [immigration status] comes, where do you want to be? Out of school and frustrated or in school and prepared?” Dr. Gonzalez uses these examples as motivation for students to stay committed to studying and pursuing their educational goals regardless of their immigration status.

There were many workshops this year for participants to choose from, topics ranging from media as a career and to using one’s Latino background as a resource, to leadership development, and information for parents on how to support their 1079 students.

Students returned to the main ballroom to participate in Yuppady, a Jeopardy style game covering basic government questions. With hilarious results, students proved to be excellent contestants and proved Yuppady may just be too easy. This was great news to LEAP as it shows more and more students are becoming familiar with their state government.

Later in the afternoon, conference participants were oriented on Legislative Day, a day where conference participants meet with their state legislative representatives to advocate for improved educational policies. Ricardo Sánchez, LEAP Founder and current Chair of the Board, told students it was okay not to be familiar with their state or congressional representatives, because “many people do not know, [and] that is expected!” Sanchez wanted students not to feel intimidated by the process but to take advantage of the learning opportunities at Legislative Day.

Each year, LEAP and its Advisory Board, establishes educational policy priorities which LEAP advocates for at its Legislative Day event. This year, LEAP chose to focus on Senate Bill 6778, an alternative route to high school graduation. As it stands, our state requires that high school students earn 24 credits to graduate from high school, but our state universities and colleges only require a minimum of 15 credits. LEAP has recommended the state provide an additional opportunity for students to pursue an alternative route to graduation. SB 6778 would give students, who earn at least 15 credits with a 3.0 GPA or above, to graduate from high school. Sánchez stated that, “if this bill passes, it would gives students a chance to graduate from high school and go to college…and it would decreases high school drop-out rates.”

Without the convenience of time, participants were given a quick introduction to SB 6778 and Legislative Day. Even if the students did not feel well prepared, they were all excited to go to Olympia the following day. It was LEAP’s main intention to begin a discussion about this topic and welcomed a healthy debate.

During the dinner program, conference attendees had the opportunity to hear from their peers. A diverse set of students served on a panel describing their leadership experiences. This panel included: Melissa Holguin Pineda, a middle school student from Vancouver School of Arts and Academics; Manuel García, a senior from Mount Vernon High School; Maria Vallejo a student at Seattle Central Community College; and Elizabeth Hernandez, from Washington State University. Hernandez told students, “un mejor futuro ahora no mañana,” they should advocate for a better future today not tomorrow. The student panel’s main message for students was: college should be for those people who make the effort to go to college.

Dr. Alejandra Rincón, National Director of University Alliances at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and author of Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education, was the key note speaker for Thursday evening. Dr. Rincón provided a compelling look into the DREAM Act, a federal bill that would provide undocumented students with permanent residency if they have lived in the United States:
• before they were 16 years old,
• for 5 years and,
• have graduated from a U.S. high school.
If within 6 years, these individuals either complete 2 years of a college education or a US military term, they will receive permanent residency.

If the DREAM Act passes, Dr. Rincón predicts around 300,000 people would benefit. But Dr. Rincón noted it has been 10 years since the DREAM Act has been introduced into U.S. Congress. She asks: do they [US government] want us here…yes, do they want cheap labor…yes. Do they want us to go to college…no. Why are we good enough to work but not good enough to go to school?

Dr. Rincón further explains, even though the Dream Act has not passed yet, it has brought positive outcomes. Undocumented students are now united and students are coming out from the shadows empowered. Her examples included three national cases of undocumented students who fought back as they were given deportation notices and have spoken out about the DREAM Act. Another positive, Dr. Rincon explains, is while it took California 15 years to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students (AB 540), it only took Washington state 2 years (HB 1079).

Dr. Rincón continued by discussing the unintentional harm advocates of the DREAM Act commit by using particular comments such as suggesting that students are being penalized because of their parent’s actions or the idea that we must educate undocumented students or they can become criminals and also focusing on just high achieving students. She asks, “what about the one who got pregnant? What about the one with a GED?”

After Dr. Rincón’s address, LEAP dedicated the rest of the evening to parents by recognizin their sacrifices and support they have provided over the years. A slideshow of photos and quotes from state Latino leaders was shown to emphasizing how their parents have and continue to influence them. The slideshow was intended for the younger generation to recognize parents are still influential, no matter your age or position. Frances E. Contreras, Associate Professor for the College of Education at University of Washington submitted the following quote:

“My parents are my inspiration who provide me with unconditional love and support, during both life's challenges and successes. They have shown me through their example, that through hard work and by having integrity, you can accomplish great things while holding true to your ideals. They also modeled that you also have to stand for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone at times--to be a leader takes courage and character”.

Following the slideshow, there was an open mike for conference participants to express their appreciation for their parents. Students jumped at the chance to honor their parents and recognize their support. In addition, each parent attending the conference was surprised with a small gift bag as a small token of appreciation.

As the evening winded down, some of the conference participants chose to end their evenings early. For those who stayed, they were treated to the annual Noche Cultural, a time for students to use to showcase their talents. LEAP Volunteers developed an American Idol style skit with a few surprise contestants, such as la Chilindrina, to encourage students to participate. But the highlight of the evening was el Chacal, who came all the way from California to attend the conference. Students were excited to see this celebrity but not so much when he chose them as his “victims” on the dance floor.

Noche Cultural continued with students sharing their songwriting, singing, dancing, and acting abilities. But to everyone’s surprise, Ricardo Sánchez, Chairman of the Board for LEAP, proved to everyone age “ain’t nuthang” but a number with his rapping abilities, a real treat for everyone in attendance.

Friday February 19th

The morning of Legislative Day started with warm bright sun instead of clouds and rain. Once at the capitol, many conference participants chose to attend the SB 6778 hearing, where a group of students from Pasco, Mount Vernon, and Federal Way testified for SB 6778. Many people testified in support of the bill, most notable was Israel Bellam on behalf of Dr. Lee Vargas from Kent School District and Ben Kodama from the Equitable Opportunity Caucus and Asian-Pacific Islander Think Tank. There were many recognizable opponents such as the Seattle Times and the Governor’s Office. None of this deterred the students, they were determined to testify because this bill affected students and little student input. The LEAP students wanted to fill the missing student voice in this discussion. Even Barbra Martin, who testified in support of SB 6778 said, “it could not have been better to have children here to testify…. this should be student centered.” As the students and participants testified, many referred to their peers. Raul Sital Jr testified:

“…si se puede and you got to want it, especially for those who wake up at 5 am for a 12 hour day… seeing more than half of my class not going to graduate kills me…people speak different languages who are brilliant but can’t surpass [WASL] tests because they do not understand the English language well.”

Christian Resgot said “this isn’t a step back… [we’re] only asking for 15 credits and a 3.0 GPA… this is what colleges look for…” One student testified that she has a 3.8 GPA and is taking AP classes but struggles with passing the WASL. Ofelia Rodriguez said “everyone is given tools to graduate… we need to give tools to those who struggle to graduate…”

Ricardo Sanchez, founder of LEAP, testified:“We want to keep our standards and education high… we fail to see how students can graduate with all D’s – how will this help them? Don’t we want students to rather maintain a B average in high school? Students who graduate with 15 credits will also need to maintain a B average…”

This was an impressionable experience for the students. One student from Pasco even boldly stated to the hearing committee members, “I want to be sitting next to you guys someday.” Everyone was impressed with the students and commented on their bravery to stand before the Senate Hearing Committee.

(Note: SB 6778 passed in the Senate but did not move out of committee in the House.)

The rest of Legislative Day went well with students having their questions answered by their legislator. Students from Global Connections High School, District 33, asked Representative Tina Orwall about SB 6778. She stated that she was skeptical and not sure if CORE 24 is the right direction.

Lee Mendez from Wenatchee Valley College CAMP in District 12 asked Senator Linda Evans Parlett, how the governor could look at education and financial aid and cut its funding? Senator Evans-Parlett replied, “I can’t speak for the Governor but she has different priorities than mine.”

Natalie Ruiz from Lynnwood High School in District 21 asked her Senator, Paull Shin, about SB 6778. Senator Shin let her know that he support the bill and stated, “it’s good for students who have ‘interruptions’ in their education.”

As Legislative Day was coming to an end, students from Mount Vernon middle school said they had fun getting to know how legislation works and what it does. In addition, they said it was exciting [to meet their representative] but felt comfortable because he is the father of one of the teachers in their middle school. They even had the opportunity to ask him about any struggles he has experienced in his career.

During lunch, Senator Rosemary McAuliffe from District 1 addressed conference participants and told them:

“This is your state capital. It’s very important that some of you testified today. It is a very important bill. There has to be a different way for students to show that they have the skills and knowledge to graduate. It’s important for all of you to talk to your representatives and say pass the bill…”

The 2010 LEAP Legislative Day proved to be successful in helping students understand and received first hand exposure at their state government. Students did a great job representing their schools, community and families, while playing a role in governmental decision making.

Upon returning to the Hotel Murano, conference participants were welcomed with an Academic Showcase. The Academic Showcase exposed students to the type of research and work college and university departments engage in, with an emphasis on Latino faculty and student researchers. Representatives from Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University, and Highline Community College were on hand to discuss their research. Students learned about a solar go-cart created by the engineering department; how biomedical research can discover and cure a sexually transmitted disease; using research on the diversity of student populations for a career, and much more. College recruiters were also on hand to provide students with the specific details on attending their college or university.

After the showcase, conference participants returned to the ballroom to listen to a student panel full of amazing leaders making big impacts in Washington state. Students included: Jorge Alonso Chehade, a recent University of Washington graduate; Ray Corona, a student at the University of Washington Bothell; Sinéad Baylón, a student at Green River Community College; and Maria García, a student at Brewster High School. The student panel shared advice and their experiences in their leadership roles.

Chehade, a student who was successful in halting his deportation said, “the best thing to do is unify different organizations and groups by finding a common ground. It’s a matter of sitting down and brainstorming and talking about them and find peace in order to unify…” Chehade further stated when he sees opportunities he takes them and always looks at the positive things in life. Corona told students, “we all need to help each other out and be mentors to one another.” Corona wanted students to understand, “that if you don’t have guidance, get a mentor, it is to your advantage.” Baylón provided some great advice and said, “we as college students need to reach out to our high schools because we are older…be a leader…empower your community, empower others to become leaders and if they fail don’t yell at them, help them.” Lastly, García who lost her family in a tragic accident emotionally said: “I learned the hard way that family is not eternal. You never know, one day you may not be able to do things for yourself. Sometimes life is extremely hard but we have to be positive and think of the good, because if you don’t, you’ll never be able to overcome the obstacles.” This was all great advice from some amazing students who showed, through their actions, were able to accomplish big goals.

This year, LEAP introduced the idea of action planning, which gives students the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned at the conference and how they can continue this energy at home. Students were asked to develop a Live PowerPoint skit, to show their issue and, through their action plan, how they would improve this situation. One example was from Central Washington University who expressed the need for extended library hours so that students can have a space to study late at night.

After a quick break, conference participants returned to the ballroom for dinner. Key note speaker, Senator Paull Shin, spoke to students about his inspirational story. As a homeless child living in Korea during the Korean War, Shin had only one friend who always spoke of committing suicide. Shin pleaded to his friend not to consider such nonsense because he did not want to be alone. Not too long after, Shin saw his friend’s lifeless body on the nearby railroad tracks. Alone for some time, Shin later saw American tanks driving through town and a soldier just grabbed Shin’s arm and took him to their base. This is how Shin became an errand boy at this U.S. Base. One day Shin hid from the base because he was crying, when an American soldier found him and inquired about the tears, Shin angrily told him to leave him. But the soldier persisted telling a young Shin, that when his children cry, it hurts him inside. After some time, this soldier adopted a 16 year old Shin and Shin chose to take his adoptive father’s last name as his first name – Paull. When Shin came to the U.S. to live with his new family, he did not speak English. Shin’s father wanted him to go to school, but Shin had never gone to school either. His father took Shin to the local high school but Shin was rejected at the high school, middle school, and was told he was too old for elementary school. Instead of feeling defeated, Shin decided to obtain his GED and bought an English dictionary so he could memorize it. He would study for 13 hours a day and by the next day, would forget everything he learned. That is when Shin decided to study a page, burn it and place the ashes in water, so he could ingest as a way to embed them into his being. Of all the words in the dictionary, there was one word Shin refused to drink, and that was “impossible.” Instead he threw away the I-M so it could read as “possible.” This, Shin said, was a way to remind him no matter how hard, everyone should prosper because it is possible.

This lesson was evident when Shin decided to run for office as a Democrat in a Republican district. Shin was not sure how his legislative district would receive him, but because America had given him so much, Shin wanted to pay back by serving his country. Shin boldly decided to walk to every house in his district to introduce himself and ask for people’s support. One day, he arrived to a man’s home who decided to use a few unsavory words for Shin based on his race. Shin could have become angry, which he did, but he kept that anger to himself and chose instead to use this as an opportunity. He explained to the man of his experiences and how the words the man chose were not accurate. By the end of the conversation, this man welcomed Shin to his home, supported Shin’s run for office and continues to be a friend to Shin. Shin became the first person of color who was elected in the history of his district.

Shin had much more to add about his personal story and many in the audience were moved to tears. Students were impressed by Shin’s humble words and lessons and were a highlight of the conference. We hope Shin will make an annual appearance to the LEAP Conference

Following Shin’s amazing story, three previous LEAP Scholarship awardees, Sonia Ramirez, Jose Lopez and Osbaldo Hernandez, spoke to conference participants about their educational and leadership experiences after their award. This also proved to be very emotional and was a reminder of the struggles these students continue to face regardless of receiving a scholarship.

All in all, the 2010 LEAP Education Conference & Legislative Day proved to be one of the best yet. We appreciate everyone’s participation and hope to see many of them again in the future either at the 2011 LEAP Conference and/or as leaders in their communities and in Washington state. See you next year!

Luis Ortega Recipient of the Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney Leadership Award

The 5th Annual Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney Leadership Award recipient went to Luis Ortega, a University of Washington student. Luis received a $5000 scholarship sponsored by State Farm Insurance.

Luis is a senior at the University of Washington and he was born in Mexico City. Luis moved to the United States when he was 12. He too had many difficulties when he arrived in the U.S. but today, Luis is very active, advising Latino students all over Washington state and has volunteered and headed many educational forums. Luis is well respected by his peers and other leaders in the state based on his extensive and dedicated leadership work. He has gone on to co-found the Latino Student Union at UW and ALIANZA Student Coalition of Washington State. In accepting his award, Luis said “I face challenges with a smile on my face and before every adversity I stand tall.”

Luis shared with everyone in attendance the poem his grandmother taught him when he went to her school in Mexico, and carries with him everyday:
Jembrando by Rafael Blanco
“Ay que luchar por todos los que no luchan
Ay que pedir por todos los que no implicarán
Ay que hacer que nos oigan los que no escuchan
Y ay que llorar por todos los que no lloran”

A State Farm representative awarding Luis his scholarship, addressed State Farms beliefs in the importance of education stating that there is such value in continuing to learn and continuing development to get educated. They made clear to conference participants that this value of education makes a difference.

Luis will be graduating this June with a Bachelor degree in Political Science and Business Congratulations Luis!

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