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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Raising Funds for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and Fifth Grade Classroom

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

The past week has been challenging. It seems like I haven't had a moment's rest.

Having to prepare assignments for my University of Michigan weekly creative writing workshop, working on various social justice campaigns, raising funds for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign and funds to help a Detroit fifth grade classroom purchase a new laptop and printer, have all been mentally taxing and time-consuming.

This Saturday, October 3, 2009 I will walk in the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at the G. Robert Cotton Facility at 1 PM along with other prisoners who helped raise money for the campaign. In all we raised $1,046. That's a lot of money considering prison work assignment pay prisoners less than $50 per month on average.

I am pretty excited about my contribution to help purchase the laptop and printer for the Detroit elementary school classroom. I know the children who will benefit from it will be very grateful. Their school district could not afford these items, so the teacher was compelled to independently raise funds to acquire them. The teacher will use the laptop and printer as tools to teach ESL students how to make comic books.

According to the teacher, ""Making comic books can inspire an emerging ESL learner to spread his or hers artistic wings. They will learn to construct and understand the structure of the English language at their own pace. Reading aloud published work will instill a confidence to teach themselves to self correct their own grammatical errors."

She added, "Constructing comic books is a great role model for demonstrating parts of a story, defining characters, recognize setting, and coming up with some crazy plots and far-out solutions. Showing my students what the power of words can do for written text helps them develop an incredible eye for detail on their own writing. After a few months my shy students are no longer shy but are then replaced with imaginative artist and engaging authors."

The money I helped raise will be used to assist finding a cure and prevention to breast cancer, and also empower the lives of young people in school. I hope that it will also inspire others to help people in need. All our lives are enriched when we make even one contribution to helping make the world a better place.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ending the Xicana/Latina Drop-Out Crisis

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

Yesterday many schools opened across the nation to commence the new school year. For many it will mark new aspirations, for others it will signal the painful reality of dreams deferred and evaporating hopes.

August 27, 2009 a new report titled, "Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation," was released by the National Women’s Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

According to the report, "Latinas are dropping out of school in alarming numbers. Forty-one percent of Latina students do not graduate with their class in four years—if they graduate at all. Many Latina students face challenges related to poverty, immigration status, limited English proficiency, and damaging gender and ethnic stereotypes. And the high teen pregnancy rate for Latinas (53% by the age of 20) reflects and reinforces the barriers they face."

The gravity of this disturbing reality is exacerbated by the fact that 80% of the students surveyed want to graduate from college and perhaps go further, and 98% reported they want to graduate from high school. One-third of the girls who were surveyed do not expect to achieve their educational goals.

To help combat the factors that are contributing to the drop-out rate of Xicana/Latina high school students and bring attention to this issue, I asked members of The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee to Free Efrén Paredes, Jr. to create a Facebook group on my behalf named, "I Pledge to Help Xicanas/Latinas Graduate."

With over 250 million Facebook users, according to Nielsen NetView, I felt it would be a great way to connect people who are serious about ending this cycle and offer them a platform to share ideas, resources, programs, and information about ways to accomplish this.

In just 11 days the group has reached 1,300 members and continues to grow each day. This is an indication that people are serious about wanting to end this crisis. Several people have expressed interest in the group and gratitude for conceptualizing the group's creation. People are already networking and sharing important information.

One group of students at Michigan State University is currently creating a mentoring group for Xicana/Latina students in the Lansing area. I recently spoke to the students and offered to help them in any way I can, including helping develop a workshop or offering relevant educational materials they can utilize.

Several students at various universities have also asked to publish my poem "The Wise Latina" in campus newspapers and feature it on their web site. I have granted permission for all of them to do it and have been grateful for the interest it has generated nationally.

I invite everyone to read "Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation" and share it with other parents, educators, clergy, community leaders, and others who can help contribute to the campaign to help Xicanas/Latinas graduate from high school and pursue their dreams.

This call to action is not only to assist members of my own family and friends, but for every other Xicana/Latina student who dreams of graduating from high school and matriculating at a university.

Xicana/Latina students across the nation are depending on us. We have to be their voice and advocates. We have a responsibility to them and it is our mission to fulfill it. Last year half the children born in this country were Xicano/Latino and that number is expected to rise each year.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. But, we also have a lot of hands, strong hearts and brilliant minds to do it.

Click here to join the Facebook group and become a part of this effort. Share the link with others, invite your contacts, and spread the word. You can also download all the reports and fact sheets related to this issue by visiting the MALDEF web site.

Monday, September 7, 2009

President Obama to Deliver Positive Message to School Children

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding President Obama's message to school children which will he plans to deliver to U.S. primary and secondary students via webcast and C-Span Tuesday, September 8, 2008 at 12 PM ET.

Many people initially objected to having President Obama deliver his speech. No such objection was made by Republicans when both George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan delivered their direct-to-the-classroom talks in the 1980s and '90s.

What is very disturbing about this manufactured controversy is the level of hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty being exhibited by people protesting President Obama's message. Some have even tried characterized his message as an attempt to indoctrinate children using subliminal messages cloaked in socialist ideology.

To quell the concerns of parents and educators the White House released the text of the President's prepared remarks on Monday. President Obama wanted to give people an opportunity to review the speech before making a decision about whether or not to allow students to view his message live on Tuesday.

One of the President's staunch opponents of delivering his message was Jim Greer, the Florida Republican party chairman. Last week Greer accused the president of trying to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda."

After the text to the prepared remarks the President will deliver were shared with the public yesterday Greer now says he will let his children watch what he calls a "good speech," one the president "should give."

Greer added, "It encourages kids to stay in school and the importance of education and I think that's what a president should do when they're gonna talk to students across the country."

Obama's intentions for Tuesday is tantamount to a presidential pep talk about taking education seriously. The President's message is one that should resonate with every educator and parent across the country, and one that they should encourage children to view/hear.

People would be remiss in their responsibility to our nation's children to pass up this learning opportunity and positive message directed at encouraging children to succeed and do good in life.

Update 9/9/09: You can watch the video of President Obama's message delivered yesterday below.