This week concludes my time in Miami working with the Mexican-American Council (MAC) and their Summer College and Career Prep Program (CCP). This was a wonderful experience that reshaped the way I think about development in communities regarding education and youth empowerment. I would like to highlight a few moments that significantly impacted me.
Notre Dame Takeover Day
MAC gave us the opportunity to create a full day of lessons and activities called “Notre Dame Takeover Day” for the Summer College and Career Prep Program. My classmates and I each had our own ideas for what we wanted to teach the students and what games we wanted to play. Lizbeth Cortez-Galindo and I put together a lesson on presentation skills. We showcased several scholarships that they should apply to and I shared my experience as a Questbridge National College Match. Other lessons included how to pick a major, how to research colleges, and more. This day meant a lot to me because I was able to share my journey to Notre Dame and encourage the students to pursue higher education.
Everglades National Park
We also went on several field trips with the students. We went to the Miami Zoo, Everglades National Park, and Florida Atlantic University. My favorite trip that we embarked on was the trip to the Everglades. The Everglades was truly breathtaking and invited all of us to enjoy a peaceful moment taking in the scenery. The vastness of the grass and the stillness of the river grounded my mind and allowed me to truly appreciate the nature around me. I found myself eager to learn the native species including bromeliads which look like the tops of pineapples from afar. Along with taking in the beautiful nature, we were able to go slogging into the river of grass. The idea of slogging was questionable at first and I was unsure about walking through muddy waters amongst mosquitos. However, it ended up being the most enjoyable part of the trip for me. We had been walking in 100+ degree weather so the cooling water and shade from the cypress trees provided some respite from the beaming sun rays. Instead of just looking at the water, I was able to really immerse myself into the habitat the Everglades provides to many endangered species, such as the American crocodile and the Florida panther. Watching the students interact with the environment was fun and it was interesting to see how they adapted to being out of their comfort zone. After walking through the water for a while they weren’t afraid to get muddy. They actually started to submerge themselves into deep areas of the water where only their shoulders could be seen. They also started asking the park guides questions about their careers and why they wanted to work with environmental conservation. Spending the day in the Everglades reminded me that exposure to resources and enriching experiences is important for youth development. I know that the students and my classmates appreciated the opportunity to learn about the habits that are critical to Homestead.
Field Day & Graduation Ceremony
On our last day with MAC we had a fun field day and graduation ceremony. We played lots of fun games and the students did not hesitate to express their competitiveness. The games included Capture the Flag, a blindfolded walking race, a drawing with tied thumbs challenge, and more. The day concluded with a graduation ceremony for the Summer CCP Program. As I watched the students accept their certificates, I recalled our first day at MAC and the anticipation of what the summer held. The students were hesitant to talk to each other and to our group of Notre Dame mentors. On field day the students exuded so much more confidence and I saw many friendships blooming. I could also see how much they appreciated spending time forming connections with my classmates and I. Something that will stick with me forever is how one of the students, Nayeli, told me that she is grateful for the time she got to know me and hopes that we can stay in touch. I will definitely continue to reach out to her and all of the students at MAC. It was bittersweet saying good bye to all of them. I am grateful for the connections that I have made with them and I can’t wait to see all that they accomplish in the future.
As I conclude my reflection on these past seven weeks I would like to return to the concept of being a tourist vs a traveler that I mentioned at the beginning of the summer. A tourist is simply passing through. However, a traveler hopes that their new environment will make a lasting impact on their view of the world. Being in Miami for seven weeks allowed me to learn all that I could about the heavy Hispanic and Caribbean influence on the city. I was able to try Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Cuban, and Haitian food, just to name a few. I learned that the art in Miami is critical to its culture. A great example of this is the graffiti in Wynwood that stretches throughout the entire neighborhood. I slowly found myself becoming fond of different aspects of the city. I will especially be missing the infamous Robert is Here Fruit Stand and Farm, which we happily visited at least once each week. Miami has definitely made a lasting impression on me and I cherish the time I spent there as a traveler and mentor.
Learning about the history of Miami and working with the students furthered my understanding of why cultural representation is important in the classroom. When students are placed in an environment where they are constantly included and told that they can accomplish anything despite socioeconomic status, they have a positive mindset towards pursuing higher education. MAC does an excellent job at making sure each student knows that they can pursue whatever their heart desires without limitations.
I would like to thank MAC for welcoming us with open arms and being a wonderful organization to work with. I would like to thank the Balfour-Hesburgh Scholars Program, specifically Dr.Lucero and Charlie Ortega, for the hard work that they put into making this service program possible. Working with Charlie made this experience all the better and I am grateful for the time that I had to get to know him this summer. I would also like to thank Professor Botero for inviting me to join her Latinx Immigrant Experiences in the US class and for her educational guidance while working with the students at MAC. Lastly, I would like to thank my classmates Leyra, Andrea, Gabby, Kat, and Liz. I really enjoyed working with this amazing group of Notre Dame students and faculty. I look forward to more rewarding opportunities like this in the future.