Last year, I became interested in Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” after my Race in American History teacher alerted me to how the underrepresentation of Latino/a educational instructors affects the number of low-income, first-generation Latino students going to college. As a result, I spent this summer researching real-life applications of critical pedagogy and educational ethics. Working in these two fields further enlightened my view on inequities in school. After studying Freire’s theories on co-constructed curricula while researching how the deportation pipeline discourages students from attending high school classes, I returned to my school this year with the mission of addressing the factors that lead to systemic inequalities through my work with El Club.
As the leader of the El Club – my school’s Latino heritage club – I encouraged members to consider how our work could not only celebrate culture but also address educational disparities. I proposed that we channel our community service ideas into an online presence that would go beyond our club’s current efforts. Using a website platform that promotes greater literacy rates among students in our region, I recognized that our initial work of offering bilingual accessibility for articles on global and domestic issues might allow students to become more informed, but it didn’t give them opportunities to become involved. Thus, I led the restructuring of the site to include links to educational and scholarship opportunities in fields such as politics and medicine. I hoped that we could help Latino students develop and achieve their academic ambitions by featuring various channels that could help further their interests without adding financial burdens. After making announcements during all-school meetings at the start of the school year to relay our work to the rest of the school community, I transitioned El Club from bi-weekly to weekly meetings in order to allot more discussion time for the website’s development. To help manage the growing number of jobs, I designated certain contributors new positions, including Head Translator and Head Content Editor, in order to distribute the website’s tasks.
After we had polished the logistical details and tasks for the website, I began contacting various educators across my state, including the directors of my state’s Regional Education Service Centers, a group of organizations that provide schools in their respective regions with public services and programs. These organizations help train district faculty members, one of their specializations being developing greater multiculturalism in each teacher’s discipline including Social Studies and Language Arts. With this broad outreach, my website has been able to reach a large population of students and teachers who can take advantage of the resources we have assembled.
This winter, we will begin a subset program of El Club where students can visit middle schools in the local area on Wednesday afternoons to host cultural activities and teach Spanish. By expanding our outreach efforts to non-Latino students, we hope that younger students can be more aware of the local Latino community and the challenges they face, especially considering the geographical seclusion of these schools in our region of the state.
I hope that our articles on Medicaid alongside links for programs like Jumpstart Doctors Academy not only motivate our readers to pursue higher education but also inspire my peers to address how both macro- and micro-oppressions create obstacles for first-generation Latino youth. With our website platform, I have found a way to show my campus community how we can go beyond our physical isolation in our town to be active social justice advocates.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.