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Seeking Change Through Collaboration

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MVHS Youth Voices students meet with Principal Larry Cecil and Claire Robinson from Amigos de los Rios
MVHS Youth Voices students meet with Principal Larry Cecil and Claire Robinson from Amigos de los Rios.

The Youth Voices students began exploring their community causes just before they left for their winter break. They brainstormed ideas, identified resources, and pulled together contacts as well as their next steps. Teams at both Arroyo and Mountain View High School are planning to restart previous efforts to establish school gardens with a new sense of community. Other teams are interested in raising awareness of dating violence amongst teens, and promoting safe and complete streets in El Monte/South El Monte.

The idea of changing or developing something in your community -- of making it better, or more responsive to the needs of residents -- can seem like a difficult prospect. Where do you begin? Who do you talk to? Will anyone listen? For young people, just coming into their own, it can be incredibly daunting. The Youth Voices students are using their Notebooks to help guide them through the process of brainstorming and identifying their next steps, including writing out their initial ideas, conducting research, and identifying and meeting with community organizations already engaged in similar work.

Proposed site for Arroyo High School Garden
Proposed site for Arroyo High School Garden.

Reaching Out

For the teams interested in working on causes related to their schools, much of their initial leg work consisted of contacting their teachers and school administrators, building or extending the relationships they have within their school community. For the teams hoping to restart the school gardens, they needed to research how far the original plan had gone and why it stopped, allowing them to identify what had worked and avoid the same pitfalls. The teams working on the awareness campaign and complete streets focused on identifying the types of events and activities they would be permitted to implement at their school.

The teams also connected with community organizations that could provide insight and resources for their cause. Initiating this communication is important for the projects to gain momentum, and for the students to clarify their investigation and begin to advocate for their cause. Departures Youth Voices is fortunate to have wonderful community partners to reach out to and provide mentorship and support for the students, but it is also important for the student teams to identify organizations through their research and reach out to them on their own. These organizations can offer activities for them to become involved in, both in and outside of their immediate community.

Bryan Slade and the students from Arroyo High School discuss the proposed garden site
Bryan Slade and the students from Arroyo High School discuss the proposed garden site.

School Gardens

Teams at Arroyo and Mountain View High Schools invited Amigos de los Rios to visit their schools to explore and discuss the proposed sites for their gardens, as well as provide valuable advice on the process. Amigos have been working for almost a decade on the development of the Emerald Necklace Regional Park Network, connecting the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. In El Monte and South El Monte, they have developed a green belt along the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River that celebrates open spaces, native vegetation, and the history of the area.

The visit from Amigos de los Rios opened up new possibilities for both school sites. At Mountain View High School, students met with Claire Robinson, managing director, and Bryan Slade, outreach and volunteer coordinator. They toured two possible sites for the proposed garden and memorial for former administrator Bobby Salcedo, which, in addition to the memorial tree for Mr. Salcedo already at the school, would create another opportunity to recognize the legacy of his life and work. After exploring both sites and a discussion with Principal Larry Cecil, the students had an extensive list of ideas for developing both locations.

At Arroyo High School, students spoke to Bryan Slade and were informed that the location of the proposed garden site is immediately adjacent to the bike path leading out to Peck Park, possibly making it eligible for Emerald Necklace status and for their volunteer stewardship program. Bryan and the students also discussed what types of native plants they could incorporate into their proposed edible garden, along with possible design and landscaping options.

Students research some of the information provided by Amigos de los Rios
Students research some of the information provided by Amigos de los Rios.

Dating Violence Awareness

The teams working on the dating violence awareness campaign worked closely with Youth Voices coordinator Luis Sierra Campos to identify local and national organizations with whom they could partner for their projects. They connected with Break the Cycle, a national organization located in Los Angeles that offers trainings and resources on dating abuse and sponsors teenDVmonth in February. Luis and the Youth Voices students scheduled a training with Break the Cycle, and will be collaborating with them to identify additional resources for their proposed activities, including a multi-school Twitter Chat in February. The students also began to reach out to teachers and administrators to acquire permission for the Twitter Chat, which would require students to be on their smart phones during class.

Safe and Complete Streets

The students developing a project on safe and complete streets in El Monte and South El Monte identified Day One as a community partner. The organization advances public health education, intervention, and policy development throughout Southern California, and currently coordinates a Youth Advocates group at Mountain View High School. Some of the Youth Voices students participated in a recent rally at the El Monte City Hall to support the passage of a complete streets initiative in the City.

This process of reaching out to school and community allies allows the students to gain confidence in themselves and their causes, especially when they gain support from well-established organizations working on similar issues as their own. The experience and resources that these community partners offer facilitates the students' work, and makes their goals more accessible. Perhaps most importantly, it reminds us all of the need to collaborate, collaborate, collaborate -- a lesson well worth learning.

Students and community members take part in a rally in support of the complete streets initiative in El Monte
Students and community members take part in a rally in support of the complete streets initiative in El Monte.

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