Metro State students are "stars" to neighborhood children
Posted: August 11, 2011
When children from the La Alma/ Lincoln Park neighborhood return to school this month, they will have an inspiring story to share about how four Metropolitan State College of Denver students and a marine helped to brighten their summer.
As part of Metro State's Journey Through Our Heritage (JTOH) program, the students developed and implemented a six-week summer program at La Alma Recreation Center for 25 children, ages 5-11. The internship was facilitated through an internship with the office of Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero.
The finale event was held at the center last month with a pizza party and certificate ceremony.
JTOH is a Metro State program that partners Metro State students with local high school students and engages them in a year-long program that enhances their current public school curriculum. It is sponsored by the Chicana/o Studies Department and supported by the African/African American Studies Department.
Working with this younger age group was a first for JTOH students, but they did a great job, according to JTOH Coordinator Renee Fajardo. "You can drop them anywhere in the world and they would know how to engage youth," she says.
The La Alma opportunity, which happened to be a few blocks away from the Auraria Campus, revealed itself when a Metro State alumnus and former resident of the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood became aware that the center's swimming pool would be closed for the summer, leaving the children without the center's main attraction during a high-peak period.
Sgt. Dean Sanchez ('07, criminal justice and criminology), district injured support coordinator for the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, contacted Montero and the Chicana/o Studies Department to see what could be done for the kids in one of Denver's oldest neighborhoods. "I went to people who really care. I reached out to people I know," says Sanchez, who has been visiting the center regularly since he was a child. "If it were not for programs like these, these kids wouldn't have a chance. I wouldn't have had a chance."
During the program, JTOH students spent about five hours a day with the children doing a variety of activities, from art to fishing. The students, all juniors, include marketing major Jay Jaramillo, art major B. Peach Dance, integrative therapeutic practices major Rachel Summers, and nursing major Maria Lozano.
Lozano, a veteran JTOH student, had an extra role as she was responsible for coordinating all activities and schedules for volunteers, JTOH students and La Alma Recreation Center youth. "She had the opportunity to truly display her leadership skills learned over the last three years in the program," says Fajardo.
Jaramillo, also president of JTOH, pulled from a range of his Metro State classes to help with the programming, from the Center for Innovation's Creative Problem Solving class to the Chicana/o Studies' Educating Chicano Children class.
The latter class "helped me see through a worldwide lens to be able to understand everybody's situation," says Jaramillo, who was humbled that the children would "see stars in their eyes when we (college students) visited. We let them know that we go to college just down the street and that they can do the same" when they graduate from high school.
During the celebration, Councilwoman Montero told the children that she hoped they had a "rock star camp" and that both the children and their parents were future leaders. She also let them know that she was hopeful that the program would happen again next year.
This is the first time for a partnership between Metro State and the center, according to Dennis M. Weber, recreation supervisor with La Alma Recreation Center and Barnum Recreation Center.
Sanchez, who spent time with the youth leading military cadences (call and response while running or marching), says "I hope someday they remember. It's the only way things are going to change."