Hispanic students at Alta High School are enjoying the positive experiences they have had and are surprised that their experiences are not being shared by other Hispanic students attending other Iowa high schools.
Five Alta High School students, a graduate of AHS and Ginni Cook, minority liaison, had the opportunity to attend the seventh annual Strengthening and Valuing Latino Communities in Iowa Conference sponsored by the state's Latino Commission.
There, the students had the chance to visit with Latinos from other Iowa high schools. In their conversations, it was found that some Hispanic students are not receiving the same respect as those in Alta.
"It's all awareness," said Cook, "and giving them a chance to appreciate the values of the Hispanics."
She feels the Hispanic population isn't always seen for all they can offer. Some of the time, "they're swimming upstream," she commented.
"It's like the old days, with the segregation, the putting down of people and the low expectations. I was astounded and so were the kids by some of the descriptions from the other students on how they were being treated in their schools. It's nothing like that here. It was an eye opener for them (Alta kids). The Alta staff and students appreciate them and see them as someone to value."
The seminar, held in Des Moines, offered the 180 students in attendance, a number of workshops for students to take part in. The keynote speaker was a a Hispanic cartoonist. Others conducting workshops were Hispanic adults who shared their professional jobs with the students.
"There was constant information," Cook said, "and the kids were like sponges, absorbing everything they could from there."
The students also had the opportunity to take part in some Hispanic music and dancing.
The students also met with state legislators and had the chance to discuss the Dream Act bill with the lawmakers and share their concerns.
This bill which addresses the tragedy of young people who grew up in the United States and have graduated from U.S. high schools but whose future is limited by current immigration laws. Under current law, these young people generally derive their immigration status solely from their parents, and when the parents are undocumented or in immigration limbo, their children have no mechanism to obtain legal residency.
If enacted, DREAM 2003 would have a life-changing impact on the students who qualify, dramatically increasing their average future earnings-and, consequently, the amount of taxes they would pay-while significantly reducing criminal justice and social services costs to taxpayers.
Ofelia Valdez, an AHS 2004 graduate, had the chance to attend the seminar last year and again this year.
She was impressed with the information she received at this year's session and enjoyed listening to the professionals talk about how they have succeeded in their lives.
"They care about our youth and want them to be the best they can be," she said.
She pointed out that she has had a good experience in Alta and Storm Lake but knows from experience that Hispanics are not always well accepted.
"In order for this to change, we all need to learn to accept everyone like we are," Valdez said. "I'm proud of my culture and want everyone to see it. We have a lot of good things to share."
Valdez, who is enrolled at Iowa Central Community College, would someday like to have a human resource job. She enjoys working with people and is a good role model to many.
She teaches Spanish classes to youth wishing to learn the language during the after school program and has shared her own newly acquired English language as an assistant English as a Second Language teacher for those desiring to learn English. She has helped with the Strengthening Families (Spanish version) program sponsored Iowa State University Extension.
She helps Ginni Cook in any area she can be of help. And she likes that.
She feels the conference is a good experience.
"We don't feel so isolated and we can see others who are working for us. It feels good.
"I have always been involved in different projects and look for any opportunity to help," Valdez said. "I see the young people having big potential. I tell them to continue with their studies and not give up. I know they can do it."
Also taking part in the conference were Mayra Valdez (Ofelia's sister), Gerardo Martinez, Michelle Quezada, Oscar Lizarraga and Jose Mena. The Alta Schools showed support of this conference and provided a vehicle for them to travel in.
The State Incentive Grant (SIG) provided dollars for the registration for the students and for lodging and eating expenses.