Picture credit: Maraly Escalante
No one could have predicted the chaos filling 2020 or that a huge pandemic, COVID-19, would come with it. With that said, many obstacles followed the worldwide pandemic; one of these obstacles being students and their families facing online learning for the first time in history.
A group known as La Cosecha decided to take on these obstacles and discuss ways on how everything could be improved. La Cosecha is a youth-led organization that advocates for students’ voices and uplifts their needs. The group is fully facilitated by Building Healthy Communities (BHC) and supported by the Youth Equity Organizer, Gabriela Manzo. The purpose of this group is to create space for youth to come together and address their needs in the educational system. According to Manzo, “The goal and vision is to empower youth to use their voices and advocate for their needs and ensure that youth are a part of decisions that affect their lives. In other words, solutions being brought by those most directly affected.”
At one of their weekly meetings, La Cosecha had gotten word that there was a Covid relief fund going into the SUHSD. As soon as the group found out about the funds, they began a meeting where they discussed issues they’ve, and their peers, experienced with online learning.
In order to find out what students needed, the youth from La Cosecha decided to gather research by sending out a survey. The survey had taken up to two days to make and was shared through their social media (Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat) to reach their intended audience, other SUHSD students. They received over 400 responses from students sharing their honest opinions about online learning. These issues were the root to their ambition.
A list of demands was created and was fully supported by their survey. The list consisted of four demands. These demands were to eliminate the digital divide by ensuring technical assistance and free quality internet that meets the needs of families, provide a virtual wellness center available to all students and families who need social and emotional support, provide a resource center on campus with sanitation resources, and provide career workshops to help seniors with college readiness and teaching students about trades schools and/or other options besides going to college. However, when reviewing all responses, the group had noticed that Chromebooks were the second-highest technology issue (following WiFi) and decided to implement this to a list of demands.
With all of that set into the list, the youth also had a major request. That request was to make it a president that youth are a part of the implementation process of coming up with solutions for these issues and ones that might follow. “Prior experiences show that the board’s visions don’t always align with what the students need and want. When visions are carried out without student involvement, it ends up wasting money and, most importantly, being ineffective,” said Erick Rocha, Senior at Alvarez and La Cosecha member.
Strategies were instantly discussed and the group decided they wanted to have meetings with trustees (the Salinas Union High School Board Members). They intended to have these meetings to showcase real-life stories on how people were suffering with online learning, social-emotional health, and present their list of demands.
Trustee Sandra Ocampo and Anthony Rocha had agreed to give La Cosecha 5 minutes to present at the following board meeting, however, there were complications that caused the groups to not be able to present. The group needed their voices to be heard. Due to this, they decided to flood the meeting with public comments about their individual stories.
Soon after, Trustee Phillip Tabera reached out to the group and ended the meeting by inviting them to present at the next board meeting and gifting them 10 minutes.
Following the list of demands and back to back meetings with trustees, they were prepared to present at the school board meeting. Darius Veliz, a senior at North Salinas High School and La Cosecha member, stated, “Their whole job is to listen to students and help solve our issues. It was important to share our stories because we needed the Trustees to be on our side in order better the outcome of our future presentation. We also wanted to meet with them individually in order to give them that time to process our demands and stories, since we wouldn’t get that opportunity in the 10 minutes we present.”
Initially, a set of 6 kids who had the most experience with the talking points and were in the group the longest were set to present to the board, however, 4 of them decided to step down in order to give an opportunity to the kids who were new and wanted to step up. The new group had only been involved in La Cosecha for 3 weeks but they were determined to show everyone how capable they were to make an impact on an incredibly important audience.
They went in blindly and did not know the outcome. According to Angelo Raya, a sophomore at Alisal High School and La Cosecha member, “My associate Caleb went before me and killed it with a beautiful introduction and then I was next. Dan Burns (superintendent) ended up failing to get my slides right, so I had to guide Burns back to my original slide. I was nervous at first, but after that mishap I exploded fact after fact. I then knew that it wasn’t hard to present because I was just sharing my own experiences. I never expected to present in front of the school board, let alone have a voice in the school system, so once I finished presenting I was full of joy.” The presentation came out successful with a lot of praise from parents, teachers, and board members.
La Cosecha gained a large amount of recognition after the board meeting. They were contacted by board members and organizations who wanted to meet and learn about their group as a whole and the work they have conducted.
Alvarez student and La Cosecha member, Caleb Castro stated, “I want to be the change that betters our community.”