By Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon, Ed.D., Senior Director, Education, NCLR
The academic year for 2014-15 is coming to a close but the learning and activities continue for students in the Cultura, Aprendizaje, Servicio, Acción (CASA) service-learning project. On May 27-28, nearly 60 CASA coordinators and students from five NCLR Affiliate sites gathered in Los Angeles for the Annual CASA Youth Summit. The goal of the Summit was to provide students with a youth-centered program that invited networking, the exchange of ideas and a space to reflect on their signature service-learning projects.
A chief goal o f the CASA project is to expose middle school students to new experiences-socially, culturally and academically. To do that this year, the Youth Summit kicked-off activities at the historical Chavez Ravine-home of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Our staff worked with the Dodgers’ Community Relations team to personalize the students’ visit to the ballpark with customized admission tickets and a running a score board message that read, “Welcome NCLR CASA Students.” The Dodgers ultimately lost their baseball game, but it didn’t damper student spirits as they reported having a “good time” at the game and enjoying the overall experience.
On day two, students focused on the core of the Youth Summit, the CASA project expo. All school year, students focused on a genuine need in their community. To help identify that need, teachers guided students through the service-learning cycle and implemented the revised CASA curriculum to ground the service-learning projects in academic learning and cultural relevance to the Latino community. Students presented their projects that covered an array of topics including: agents of change, healthy living, poverty & homelessness, Latino voting patterns, and the meaning of an educated democracy. The projects were simply impressive. The topics addressed by these middle school students are dense and layered with complexities. Still, they were able to synthesize the information gathered, identify the need in their community, and implement service projects to address the need.
In one case, students forged partnerships with organizations to build an urban garden and produce organic produce. They taught the community about healthy food options to help with the prevailing health issues in the Latino community like diabetes and cholesterol. Another CASA site conducted an analysis of the gap between eligible Latino voters and those who actually voted during the last presidential election. This information was used to develop a brochure that informs community members about the importance of voting and encourages youth to register to vote. Still, another site identified immigration as a pressing issue in their community and invited an immigration attorney to speak to parents and community members about Executive Orders like Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
It is comforting to know that our Latino youth are thinking critically about issues that impact their respective community and taking steps to address these issues through advocacy and action. We can all play a role, big or small, in this effort through mentorship, partnership, sponsorship or volunteering in a service action. So ask yourself, what can I do to uplift the Latino community through service-learning?