A multicultural program at Metro State designed to develop leaders and engage students with their community is experiencing a renaissance, thanks to the College’s Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) initiative.
Journey Through Our Heritage (Journey) was originally developed in 1999, but languished in 2004 due to lack of funds. Enter the HSI initiative, which in January 2008 issued a host of recommendations to increase Latino enrollment, one of which was to reconstitute Journey. By December 2009, with federal stimulus funding, Journey was able to hire its first full-time coordinator, Renee Fajardo, and the program was off and running.
A yearlong program in which Metro State students mentor local high school students and work at Denver area nonprofits, Journey enhances current public school curriculum in the areas of African/African American, Native American, Chicana/o Mexicana/o, Mexican-American, Red Bones, Metis, and Latina/o studies. With 20 work-study hours per week, the Metro State mentors spend one day each at their assigned high school and nonprofit organization. In addition, they hold office hours at the high schools and commit to “team time” with their assigned high school students.
“Community and family are both very important to indigenous students, and connecting to these through community organizations was the students’ idea,” Fajardo says, adding that the program succeeds in its recruitment and retention goals by giving indigenous students a sense of belonging.
The program recently put on a three-day Peace and Justice Conference, where it partnered with 15 nonprofits and 14 schools. Last Friday, a Welcome Back Ceremony was held on campus at which 12 high schools gathered with their Metro State mentors and faculty and staff. Other events scheduled for the year for the high school students include a cultural expression essay competition, Jeopardy-style knowledge competition, poetry slam and awards ceremony.
Fajardo estimates that the 20 Metro State Journey students will make contact with 2,500 to 3,300 students this year through various outreach programs. “We’re really getting our kids ready to be community leaders.”
Deputy Provost Luis Torres, who was involved with starting up Journey in the 1990s and co-chaired the HSI task force, says he’s delighted to see the program starting up again, and expanding to work with area nonprofits. “It aligns with our HSI effort in its focus on both recruitment of new students and retention of current students,” Torres says.
Associate Professor and Chair of Chicana/o Studies Ramon Del Castillo believes the program’s influence on students is profound. “Journey provides students with an in-depth understanding of the history of indigenous peoples and their contributions to society, and really of a part of themselves. It helps them become more aware of who they are,” he says. “It creates global citizens, who are culturally competent and understand how to operate in a multicultural environment.”
High schools involved in Journey Through Our Heritage include: Alameda High School
Denver Justice High School
East High School
Inner City Parish
Lakewood High School Indian Education
Lincoln High School (Principal Antonio Esquibel is a Metro State alumnus)
North High School
Program of American Indian Youth Leaders
South High School
West High School
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