Mestizo high school senior shows resilience amid COVID-19

Story by ALISON TANNER

Blossoms are blooming. The sun is shining. Temperatures are rising. Utah has welcomed a beautiful, hopeful spring. Although the familiarity of this shifting season has arrived, there’s no denying that there is a different feeling this year. 

Coronavirus has struck the nation and the world like a lightning bolt. It appears that no one is exempt from some sort of sacrifice or challenge. 

Parks are closed. Roads are sparse. Schools everywhere have transitioned online. Healthcare workers tirelessly tend to patients. Small businesses are holding on by a thread. People are losing jobs. Events are being cancelled seemingly every day. Those being mourned, must be celebrated with what has now been coined as “digital funerals.”

Everything happened so fast that the transition has been difficult for many. Lupita Galvez Zamora, a senior at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education, was told repeatedly by teachers and leaders that there wasn’t anything to worry about. But the school was shut down a week later.

“I really envisioned my senior year being so memorable and important, but it’s like it’s been taken away from me,” Zamora said in a video call. 

During what was supposed to be Zamora’s spring break, teachers began to add coursework online for students. Without a proper system of online communication, expectations weren’t clear. This resulted in students missing assignments and having more homework than they realized owing to the change, including unanticipated due dates during their break.

Luckily, Zamora had a close network of friends who helped each other communicate about their new digital reality and responsibilities. 

She added that many of her classmates are very upset, feeling deprived of their senior year experiences and upcoming graduation. “It is what it is,” Zamora said. “We have to accept it and move forward.”

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Lupita graduates from the Salt Lake Center for Science Education this spring. Image courtesy of Lupita Galvez Zamora.

She, too, is making sacrifices. Zamora said her family was planning a large party with friends and family to celebrate her high school graduation. Being a first-generation student, she emphasized the monumental occasion this was in her life, as well as what it meant to her parents.

Despite these setbacks, Zamora has chosen to look toward the future with hope and is reflecting on her positive experiences to help cope with her disappointments. 

During her middle school years, Zamora was involved with the Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective, an organization dedicated to removing barriers for minority groups to pursue higher education. She began participating full-time once she was in high school. Her experiences with MAA and the people she has met have inspired her to be more involved in her community and learn relevant information about issues that are often ignored or forgotten. 

“They’ve taught me so many things. It’s something that I’ve cherished and has shaped the direction I want my education to go,” Zamora said.

Though the details of the future are uncertain for many, Zamora has been accepted to the University of Utah and plans on attending soon. 

“Listening to people’s stories is so important,” Zamora said. Showing an interest in social justice, political science, ethnic studies and the possibility of law school in the future, she knows that whatever she pursues, she’ll always be an advocate for her community. 

Mestizo youth make difference on Capitol Hill

Story by ALISON TANNER

Though it varies by seasons, the sun rises early over Salt Lake City. The bright glow peeks over the Wasatch Mountains until the entire Valley is bathed in golden light. Cars flood Interstate 15, as drivers make their commute north, south, and everywhere in between.

The hustle and bustle of the day-to-day continues outside, while dedicated students gather on Capitol Hill right as the doors open at 7 a.m. They engage in powerful discussions regarding political implications of bills in the state of Utah. Then they head to their respective schools to continue the rest of their day. 

For over 10 years, students of color — primarily those in high school — have been determined to let their voices be heard.

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The Mestizo Arts & Activism Legislative Internship provides an opportunity for high school students to a gain valuable learning experience during the 2020 State Legislative Session. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

In 2009, the Mestizo Arts & Activism Legislative Internship (MAALI) was created by University of Utah professor Matt Bradley to inform students about educational and political pipelines. This opportunity provides young students with hands-on working experience and a chance to interact in a legislative environment.

Although Bradley died in 2012, his legacy is felt and cherished by minority groups and his impact is seen across the Salt Lake area. Also serving as a co-founder for the Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective, Bradley created MAALI to help people of color and minority groups remove barriers toward higher education.

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MAALI students attending the HB 271 committee hearing. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

The internship usually includes five to seven students, who are high school sophomores and juniors. From the end of January to mid-March, students meet regularly three times a week or more, often spending hours at a time to discuss perspectives and make plans. The diverse group of youth track bills, write analyses and interview legislators, while participating in lobby and liaison engagement.

Itzél Nava, University of Utah student and mentor at the Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective, also oversees responsibilities for the MAALI internship. Nava coordinates much of the program assigning reading and curriculum, facilitating discussion, managing recruitment of students each year and scheduling.

Nava said that although many people want to help minority communities, they often don’t listen when people of color share their voice. She added that in order to understand what issues minority groups are facing, you have to go to the source. “We are that source,” Nava said in a video call. 

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The students follow bills that could potentially affect SLC’s west-side communities and prepare themselves to continue lobbying. Image courtesy of Itzél Nava.

One high school student shared with Nava that until participating in MAALI, they hadn’t considered attending college as an option in their future. Once they had meaningful experiences and learned how they could impact their community for the better, they felt empowered and capable of pursuing higher education.

“Our voices matter,” Nava said. “Young people are the future of our country. People of color should take up space. They’re just as qualified and intelligent and their experiences matter.”

 

Olosaa Solovi, West High School’s motivational football coach

Story by HUNTER THORNBURG

Coaches are mainly expected to help student-athletes develop in their respective sport. Most also take part in keeping an eye on the athletes’ academic standing. However, the coaches who tend to have the largest impact display motivational characteristics, love for their community, and honesty and connection with their athletes. Many athletic programs dream of having a coach who goes above and beyond to make sure the student-athletes succeed. 

That dream came true for West High School upon hiring the varsity football coach, Olosaa Solovi.

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Coach Solovi on the field with his team. Photo courtesy of Olosaa Solovi.

Solovi has worked as a youth advocate for six years. He is heading into his second year of football coaching at West High, located at 241 N. 300 West, in Fall 2020. He said his coaching style is based around identifying the athletes’ needs, and getting involved.

“I try to meet with each player at least once a week. We make home visits and we get on the phone with them. We’ve broken up our staff into teams, looking over different kids and their needs. Then, as needs come up, we try to formulate a plan and go from there,” Solovi said in a phone interview. He said the staff tries to visit the athletes’ residences at least once a month to check in and make sure they are in a good position to continue to play football.

When the athletes are struggling academically, motivationally, or personally, Solovi said it is vital to incorporate the parents.

“I think the major approach is getting the parents involved. I think in my experience, especially with the demographic we deal with, unless the parents are involved, we’re going to have a harder time with each student,” Solovi said. He added that his staff’s ability to include the parents is the key factor to guaranteeing the success of every student-athlete.

Even though he’s mostly focusing on the little aspects, Solovi said the right way to coach is just to approach the position with love. In his opinion, if you love the student-athletes, your staff, the game itself, and the community you work in, you’ll find some level of success with coaching. 

Despite the fact that Solovi is a fairly new coach at West High, Assistant Coach Keith Lopati said he has had quite an effect on the football program thus far. “He communicates very well with his players. He has a very open and upfront relationship with our administration, faculty, his players, parents, and coaches. His rapport with everyone involved in the football program has to this point been very refreshing and much needed,” Lopati said in an email interview.

However, Lopati said Solovi’s impact is far-reaching. “His passion to bring back the ‘West High Pride’ even goes beyond the football program. He is actively involved and engaged with just about every program that we have in the school both athletically and academically. He encourages his coaching staff to do the same and always says, ‘We cannot expect our players to be involved if we are not willing to do the same thing,’” Lopati said.

Lopati said he enjoyed working alongside Solovi and learning his style this past season. “His coaching approach is a smash mouth, win the game in the trenches mentality on the field,” he said. That method reinforces his impact off the field by teaching the student-athletes that good character can be just as important as learning the physical skills on the football field. 

West High’s athletic director, Rachel Townsend, recognizes Solovi’s dedication to the program and the community. “He is 100% in all the time. I’m not sure there’s a time he doesn’t think about coaching. He loves his community and it’s a way he gives back,” Townsend said in an email interview. She said he is very honest with his players, is motivational, and sets high expectations for the team.

Townsend said one of the most prominent aspects of Solovi’s coaching is that he has been able to obtain the support of the community. “They trust him and believe in him. He keeps academics as the focus,” which she said will benefit the community in the future.

Townsend said Solovi finds ways to keep the athletes engaged academically and athletically. She said the players attend study hall as part of their weekly team hours, and this has resulted in positive grade checks. Athletically, Townsend said, “the students feel investment through visits to camps for 7v7, college coaches visiting practice, and the coaches that show them purpose daily.” 7v7 football is a no-contact style of play that promotes the learning of the mechanics of the game by inserting the players into any position that isn’t an offensive or defensive lineman.

She said the athletic and academic involvement of Solovi has resulted in the student-athletes showing dedication and taking ownership of the program. This has created a family atmosphere for the football team.

As the 2020 season approaches, Solovi said he is looking forward to making adjustments and improvements based on last season. He said West High is scheduled to play one of the top teams in the country, and he is excited for the challenge, believing it will make his team better.

However, above all else, he said he is eager to see how the athletes will develop individually and as a team. Solovi said, “I’m excited to see these kids come together, how each of them have gotten better, and see which new leaders we have. I’m really excited.”

A rite of passage gone: COVID-19 leaves high school seniors up in the air  

Timpview High School Senior Class of 2020. Photo courtesy of Sommer Cattani.

Story by IVANA MARTINEZ

Hundreds of schools around the nation — from K-12 to universities — have closed doors in recent weeks due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. In Utah, the “soft closure” for K-12 schools has been extended to May 1.

For many high school seniors, the uncertainty of the pandemic

means the prospect of returning to school remains up in the air. School activities such as sports, alongside the traditional senior year festivities — senior “assassination,” prom and possibly graduation — have been put on hold.

“These are unprecedented times in Utah’s and our nation’s history,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a March 23 statement.

“I have been overwhelmed with Utahns’ outpouring of support for one another, and nowhere has this been more evident than in the way our educators are supporting Utah students and families,” Herbert said.  

The closure was extended in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in public schools and limit gatherings of 10 people or more. Several in-state universities and colleges have postponed or canceled graduation ceremonies.   

Photo courtesy of Sommer Cattani.

Sommer Cattani, a senior at Timpview High School in Provo, said she was experiencing the worst case of “senioritis” prior to the pandemic. She never had anticipated any of this happening and it was a little bit disappointing for her.  

“I hated going to school, but now that I can’t, I really want to,” Cattani said in a phone interview. 

For most seniors, spring semester is a time of transition to celebrate and prepare for secondary education. Graduation for many is considered a rite of passage to commemorate the last 12 years of education. 

“A lot of people are acting like high school is kind of done for me, like I’m probably not going to go back. Which is just weird, so it kind of feels unfinished,” Cattani said.

Cattani said her online classes have easily transitioned since her school had the “soft closure.” However, COVID-19 has affected her decision to attend universities out of state, since most have shut down for the semester. After high school, Cattani was planning to study hospitality and tourism. Now it seems uncertain.  

She had planned to tour the Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus over spring break to see if tourism was actually something she’d like to academically pursue. She said it wouldn’t be smart to go to BYU-Hawaii without touring the campus. 

“I’m in this weird limbo phase. Hawaii has a really good hospitality and tourism department and I’m not sure if I would want to study that somewhere else,” Cattani said. “So it’s just kind of like oh, I don’t really know what my future holds anymore.”   

Sean Edwards, assistant principal of Timpview High School, said the district’s focus at the moment is to effectively transition classes to a distance learning model. The district will then focus on assisting seniors through this transition to post-secondary education. 

“I think that is key for continuing the learning experiences if we were to extend the closure or the dismissal,” Edwards said in a phone interview. 

“Making sure that, you know, we have a solid and coherent plan with our school counselors, with our college and career access advisor and just making sure we are pushing communication out.  We’re doing a lot of proactive reaching out to students and parents,” he said. 

Hailey Giles, another Timpview senior, spoke about her experience during this time. She said it has been a “pretty smooth transition” for her because she is used to working on Canvas Instructure. Canvas is an educational technology company based in Salt Lake City.

Giles said in a phone call that she’d dropped one of her advanced placement classes, because it wasn’t pivotal to her graduation and she wasn’t planning on taking the test. But the real impact she’s felt is the loss of senior activities, like hanging out with her friends and specifically spring sports such as golf. 

“The fear that we’ll miss out on our senior experience, and especially I play a spring sport,” Giles said. “So this was my year, I finally made varsity and we’re set to win state. And so that was just big, like knowing that I won’t be able to play that sport for the spring season.” 

Both Giles and Cattani made it clear that they understand the seriousness of the pandemic and the measures the school administration is taking to protect them. Giles hopes that once school starts she may have a chance to play golf in the summer to make up for the spring session.  

As of March 23, assistant principal Edwards said the administration’s focus is on getting the transition right. He mentioned conversations relating to senior activities will happen later when the school has a better idea of how long the extension will be. 

The school is continuing to plan for graduation as it’s normally scheduled. For now, many students are working from home waiting to hear what may come in the following months as this pandemic continues.

Delinquents: How the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake are redirecting today’s youth to constructive after-school activities

Story by Ellie Cook

With working-class parents already struggling to make ends meet, there leaves no money left for ballet classes, soccer teams, or any other after-school activities for their children. As a result, kids are responsible for finding their own ways of entertainment. Over the last few years, the western area of Salt Lake City has seen a growth in children using the time between the end of school and when their guardians return from work in a less productive way than one would hope. 

The Utah advocacy group, Choose Gang Free, stated, “Too much free time can sometimes be dangerous and trouble can often follow.” The organization encourages parents to seek constructive and safe after-school options for their children.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America recognizes the problem and has taken steps to assist in leading kids on a path to success by providing affordable care options and collaborating with local schools. 

The mission statement is, “To inspire and empower youth to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.” Fortunately, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake stays strong to their word! Certain locations, such as the Lied Center, put in extra precautions to ensure they can assist more vulnerable communities as best they can. 

The national website states, “Every day, 11.3 million youth leave school with no place to go. Clubs provide a safe place to play, grow and learn while empowering youth to excel in school, become good citizens and lead healthy, productive lives. Kids and teens who attend Boys & Girls Clubs perform better academically and are more likely to avoid risky behaviors and attend school consistently.”

Since 1860, club members have raved about their experiences.”The Boys and Girls Clubs offer a safe and accepting place for all youth to come together and participate in fun activities. Also provided is homework help and mentorship for those who don’t have access to such services,” said former Lied Club member Natalie Clark, 22.”It’s a unique program serving much at-risk youth, such as myself throughout my adolescent and teenage development.” 

The clubs serve those in grades 1-12 and have two separate programs, the junior (grades 1-6) and teen (grades 7-12).

The programs are also well received by the staff. Lied Club Director Bethany Weller said in a phone interview, “I love seeing youth realize and reach their full potential!” She added, “We provide a safe place where youth have supportive adult relationships, participate in both fun activities and targeted programs, and are provided with opportunities and recognition.” 

Employees find joy in their ability to connect with the youth, and planning activities or attending some fun field trips with the kids. Many are able to connect with children on more personal levels, whether that means they communicate with a child in their first language (many staff members are bilingual) or reminisce on the past from when they were a club member themselves. However, clubs of all locations are always searching for more hands. “We are always looking for dedicated staff or volunteers that want to come in and connect with the youth and serve them along with the staff,” Weller said.

The club itself has one flat fee of $20 a year. However, accommodations may be made if finances are an issue. The club has also teamed up with nearby schools to provide students with bus transportation and escorts to their locations. “It is difficult for parents who are working at the same time that school releases to pick up their kid and/or they don’t want their kid(s) going home alone for hours until they are home from work,” Weller explained. “By picking club members up and bringing them to the club until their parents can pick them up gives parents the peace of mind that their kid is safe and engaging in fun activities.” 

The Lied Club also offers the Kids’ Cafe, which provides dinner to club members and their families on weeknights. There are summer and fall options, all welcome to anyone. Visit the website to learn more or enroll your child in one of the many clubs located in Salt Lake City.

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the after-school clubs will remain closed until further notice. The public is encouraged to visit the website for updates. 

 

 

Cory Norton, West High School’s exceptional golf coach

Story and photos by HUNTER THORNBURG

Coaches make up a significant part of an athlete’s day, their academic career, and perhaps even their professional endeavors. It is vital that athletic organizations hire individuals who value development, and understand the importance of building the relationships that matter. Student-athletes are likely to put more effort into their aspirations if they know their coaches trust and believe in them. 

Head golf coach Cory Norton in his office.

One of the coaches who matches that description is West High School’s varsity golf coach, Cory Norton.

Norton has worked for the Salt Lake City School District for 29 years — 19 years as a behavioral specialist, and 10 years as special education teacher for West High. He is heading into his fourth year of golf coaching in Fall 2020. However, when Norton began his career at West, he wasn’t coaching golf. 

He started out as the varsity offensive coordinator with the football team at the school, located at 241 N. 300 West, and held that position for five years. During the same time, Norton was also an assistant coach for West’s varsity basketball team. He stayed with that program for seven years. Norton then took over as the head baseball coach, guiding that team for three years before becoming the head boy’s golf coach.

His extensive résumé has mostly revolved around his style and goals as a leader.

“Whether they’re competitive or whether they’re kind of an average player, that doesn’t matter. The main thing is that I want them to work hard, progress, get better, and the No. 1 thing is just to have a fun time,” he said.

Norton said golf is a sport that one can play for the rest of their life. Many of his golfers enjoy the game, and just want to learn how to play the sport in order to develop those skills and have an enjoyable experience to carry into their adult life. However, he said that teaching the student-athletes these skills is only half the job. He added that he also tries to instill positive morals and build character. 

“We’re trying to teach good values. Be kind to people, be a good citizen, stand up for what you believe in, and be a leader basically,” Norton said. He hopes to guide his student-athletes to be good advocates for their families and the school.

Student-athletes say he has significantly impacted them on and off the green. 

Tyler Skeen, a sophomore golfer at West High.

Tyler Skeen, a sophomore at West High School, said he connects with coaches best when they are flexible and kind. He said he is most efficient and successful with his training when the coaches provide consistent practices. In his opinion, Norton fits the bill.

“Five practices a week, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Every day we kind of do similar things. Fundamentals is what we work mostly on, and then once or twice a week we’ll go out and just practice,” Skeen said. Alongside consistency and flexibility, he said Norton tends to be very upbeat, and he strives to help athletes with their individual game.

Skeen’s older brother, Trevor, a junior at West High, is also on the team. Trevor said he strives to build a good relationship with his coaches. He said he connects with coaches best and has a good experience if the coaches are fun, friendly and involved.

Trevor Skeen, a junior golfer at West High.

“He’s (Norton) actually just a really fun guy. He makes jokes. He always has a plan for practice. Most of the time, it’s pretty much the same things, but it’s always helpful. He’ll give advice, and sometimes he’ll bring other people in. I like Coach, and I like the way he runs practice,” Skeen said.

Another junior on the West High golf team is Anthony Smith. He said Norton often works with the athletes individually, giving them tips and being supportive. He added that Norton also makes efforts to connect with the players by interacting with them through friendly competition. “We practice every day, and he’s always there. He sometimes even plays with us by organizing some competitions while we’re practicing, and that’s pretty fun,” Smith said.

Anthony Smith

Junior Anthony Smith is also on the West High School golf team.

All of the student-athletes said Norton is good about holding them accountable for their academics. He often conducts grade checks to make sure they’re on track, though the athletes say they don’t worry much about that as they are all responsible students. Norton said, “For me, the main thing is that I want them to do well with their academics. The first value I’m teaching is that even though they are playing a sport, school should still be one of their top priorities.”

The student-athletes are not the only ones observing Norton’s approach as the golf coach. Rachel Townsend, West High’s athletic director, has also taken notice. 

She said Norton is a coach who magnetizes his players by taking ownership of the program, which causes the players to also take ownership. “Coach Norton identifies strengths within his athletes, allowing him to help them focus on what they’re doing right. He’s very positive with his athletes,” she said. “He expects them to put in the extra time to do well on the green, and encourages them to do so.”

Norton said he is looking forward to coaching his seniors who have been with him since he became the golf coach three years ago. He said he is also excited to see the talent of his athletes on display, and hopes they will get some college scholarships out of the Fall 2020 season. 

Empowering the youth

The Capitol West Boys and Girls Club prepares for the opening of its facility in March

Story by ROBERTO ELGUERA

A community program that has been serving the public and creating opportunities for youth for more than 60 years in Salt Lake City is the Capitol West Boys and Girls Club.

The club has served as a gathering point for the youth in the Fair Park community since the 1980s. The club first started out in a local middle school and then moved to a location between West High School and the Guadalupe Church. Club Director Maren Miller called it, “A pretty ugly little cinderblock building, but we had a good time there.” Currently, the Capitol West Club will be moving to a new location in March 2020. “We just grew out of it and it was too small and the kids deserved more. So, we actually spent seven years looking for the perfect property that would allow us to stay in that same neighborhood,” Miller says. 

Even though the old building is no longer in use, the mission for the Boys and Girls Club remains the same. That is to Provide a safe place for youth and teens and give them an opportunity at a Great Future.” 

Today, the club is double the previous size. The new and improved facility will be able to host 250 youth a day. “The new building also has a second floor that we’re not completing that will allow us to grow even more, and when we max out the first floor, then we’ll have the opportunity to expand,” Miller says.

The Boys and Girls Club Capitol Campaign raised about $7 million in three years in preparation for the new building. This required plenty of phone calls to charitable foundations and fundraising. This funding will allow for more programs and resources for the youth that the old facility didn’t have. “There will be a big art center to be able to work on all different kinds of fine arts and visual arts. It also has a stage that we can use for our talent shows, plays, musical performances, and fashion shows,” Miller says. There will also be programs on Esports, technology, and life skills. 

The staff also observes the specific interests the youth need and plan it out on a month-to-month basis. One of the staff members who has been putting many years into the program is Rose Park’s Antonio Fierro.

Antonio Fierro (B-boy Alien) competing in a dance competition. Photo courtesy of Antonio Fierro.

Capitol West has been close to Fierro since he was a kid. He spent many hours after school practicing breakdancing (more commonly known as breaking in the Hip-Hop community). This work ethic led Fierro into more involvement with the club as a volunteer when he entered high school. “I started teaching back in 2012. I would just go there after school in my free time. I was still in high school, just going there teaching the youngsters.” 

Today, he has a paid position as a tutor and program director. He uses Hip-Hop culture along with his teaching to get the youth active and get in tune with their creativity. Alongside teaching the fundamentals, he keeps it true to the roots of the culture by teaching the history of where it all started. “During the years I got a lot of kids involved in Hip-Hop culture. Dancing especially, and over time I showed them other aspects of Hip-Hop, like emceeing, graffiti, and deejaying,” Fierro says. He calls his program, The Get Down.  

It’s all about empowering the youth. “In society you know, if you live in the hood amongst Chicanos, Polynesians, Blacks, we already have a stigma against us since birth. So Hip-Hop is like the empowerment. It’s like, ‘Damn, I could be somebody, you know?’ Just be proud to be brown, proud to be black and just get down on the floor and just celebrate our culture,” Fierro says. 

Along with embracing our differences, the club hopes to provide more educational resources such as after school tutoring. This will allow more students to get help with homework and preparation for exams. The club also gives students an opportunity to stretch their creative muscles to new heights outside of the classroom setting. And most important of all, the goal is to get the community’s youth more united with each other, no matter what background they may come from.

Fierro taking a photo with students after teaching. Photo courtesy of Antonio Fierro.

The club provides programs for students K-12. Both the elementary and teen programs will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Programs cost $20 each year. For families currently staying in motels or shelters, or under financial circumstances, the fee can be waived. For more information on transportation, email Club Director Maren Miller at mmiller@gslclubs.org or call 801-531-7652. The club will continue to keep its promise and provide the best services for the youth.

 

 

Women from all walks of life: how the Glendale community came together to celebrate International Women’s Day

Glendale Middle School, at 1430 W. Andrew Ave. in Salt Lake City, hosted community members for a celebration of International Women’s Day on March 7, 2020.

Story and photo by IVANA MARTINEZ

Women from all nationalities dressed in their own traditional garments took to the Glendale Middle School cafeteria floor in Salt Lake City on March 7, 2020, to celebrate the annual International Women’s Day. 

The women dotting the dance floor swayed back and forth clapping to the music. They cheered on one another in vibrant headscarves and textiles embracing each other in the name of womanhood. 

“As you can see most of these women [are] dressed in their traditional clothing, they want to embrace their true identity and who they really are. And they want to be recognized and to have a voice,” said Fatima Dirie, the refugee community liaison from the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office. 

The official International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8, which is meant to acknowledge the political, social and economic accomplishments of women all over the world. According to the New World Encyclopedia, the day commemorates women who took to the streets in 1911 to demand voting rights, better wages and shorter working hours. 

The event was sponsored by the United African Women of Hope (UAWH) and co-sponsored by the Utah Refugee Connection, Salt Lake City School District, Department of Workforce Services Refugee Services Office and the Mayor’s Office. 

United African Women of Hope is an organization that started in 2004 after a local woman died in Salt Lake City. 

 Antoinette Uwanyiugira, UAWH organizer, told Voices of Utah the group initially consisted of refugee women who came from the Congo. Now the group works with women from all nationalities.  

“We all manifest the same. It doesn’t matter where you come from, where your background [is], what your religion is. We have the same issues,” Uwanyiugira said.

The organization hosts workshops on topics including domestic violence and substance abuse. United African Women of Hope receives support from the Utah Refugee Connection.

Amy Dott Harmer of the Utah Refugee Connection said the organization helps local refugee communities come together and gather. She mentioned one of the reasons it gets involved is because most refugee groups are learning how to plan an event, especially events that involve the general community.

“Well, I think one of the important things is we’re a much better community,” Harmer said about the women who came together to celebrate International Women’s Day. “When we invite people of different faiths, different cultural backgrounds to come and be involved because then we have a much better understanding of each other.” 

According to the 2017 report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, approximately 60,000 refugees live in Utah. The vast majority of refugees reside in Salt Lake County and represent countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and Burma.

A Celebration of Cultures

A handful of dance groups came to Glendale Middle School, located at 1430 Andrew Ave. in  Salt Lake City, to celebrate their country’s traditional dances as a part of the women’s day celebration. 

Evelyn Cruz, who is from Mexico and currently studies at Granger High School, arrived with her dance group to perform traditional Mexican dances such as the jarabe tapatío. 

Evelyn Cruz and her friend dancing the jarabe tapatío at Glendale Middle School on March 7, for International Women’s Day.

She said it feels good to see others who are celebrating their cultures through dance.

“I feel proud, especially seeing others dancing and moving,” Cruz said. 

Fatima Dirie, the refugee community liaison, said how unique these types of events are for women of color. She mentioned how it can be difficult to be the only woman of color in a space that is predominantly white. 

“In today’s event, you actually see women from all walks of life and so the more we’re able to insert ourselves in these different spaces, the more people are going to appreciate diversity and include diversity at the table,” Dirie said, “allow these women to actually be on boards of commission, take a leadership role and allow them to not really be limited to only being mothers because we can do more than that.”  

Dirie mentioned how women can multitask and occupy multiple positions. She said women are more than one identity marker. 

But barriers still exist. Gender pay gap and gender inequality in leadership positions affect women — and particularly higher for women of color. 

According to the Institute For Women Policy Research, women of all major racial and ethnic groups earn less than men of the same group, and also earn less than white men.  

This is why International Women’s Day is still celebrated today — to shed light on issues women continue to face and to celebrate women for how far they have come. 

Dirie said it is important to have allies in the community who can support women on issues such as health care. She said one way to do that is to allow women to talk and men to listen. 

“Once you listen you start understanding and you start realizing you’re not listening just to respond,” Dirie said, “but you’re listening to sort of understand why these women had to go through those challenges, and how they can overcome those challenges.”

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Glendale/Mountain View Community Learning Center broadens early childhood educational opportunities

Story and photos by ELLIE COOK

Within the streets of the western neighborhoods of Salt Lake City, Navajo Street stands out because it is not your typical neighborhood block. Sitting in between Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School lies the Community Learning Center. A place with a plethora of services for the locals, it also houses the Salt Lake City School District Early Childhood Program (ECP). For decades, the ECP headquarters has sat within the main district building in downtown Salt Lake City. However, moving the office has allowed easier access for families, and assisted in a significant expansion of classrooms and various educational opportunities.

The community center offers various education options for children and their families. More hands-on curriculum has been introduced, which allows the parents and children to learn together.

The program is recognized by Utah State Office of Education as a High-Quality Program. Though the district provides early childhood programs across the Salt Lake Valley, it centers its attention toward Title-1 schools. As time went on, the program became more needed, but that caused overcrowding. Families were being turned away because all classrooms were at the maximum of 18 kids. This left financially strapped parents with few other options. “Families require some type of care/schooling for their child. Preschool programs are much more productive than throwing their child in a daycare,” said Ann Cook, former director of the ECP. So, what could be done to provide for more families?

After much contemplation and planning, in 2012 the  board of education decided to construct a 30,000-square-foot facility to serve the west-side community and house the headquarters for the early childhood program.

Cook and her colleagues helped oversee the construction to assure the center provided a beneficial layout for their classroom and office needs. This included more/larger classrooms, garden beds, larger playgrounds, and appliances such as sinks, toilets and water stations that accommodated 3-4-year-olds. Lastly, it allowed the ECP to create a spacious office area to serve the community. “Moving our office from the main district building allowed us to assist our patrons much easier by making it more accessible for families who live on the west side,” Cook said.

By 2013, the dream center had become a reality. Since then, the ECP has been able to assist many more families and host various programs. The center has occupied multiple pre-kindergarten (half-day and full-day) classrooms, four kindergartens, and a Head Start room for infants.

The center sits between Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School. There are various services offered within the center, including a public kitchen, a food pantry and dental office.

With the sudden growth of classrooms needing occupants, the expansion opened the doors for employment as teachers and paraprofessionals were in short supply. “We are a pretty amazing program with wonderful teaching staff. Our teachers are dedicated to supporting the students within our district,” said Teacher Specialist Robyn Johnson. Usually, classes have one teacher and one paraprofessional. Many of them are bilingual, mainly in Spanish and English. The ECP recognizes that it serves a large Hispanic community and therefore needs to ensure everything is communicated correctly, and respectfully. This applies to the classrooms and the main office. Communicating in more than one language is essential in a classroom setting, especially if English is not the child’s first language.

With such success with this center, this leaves room for potential expansions for the ECP. “We would love to provide more opportunities for pre-k. Families have asked for more full-day opportunities and we have been able to add a few more sites to meet their requests. Ideally, we would love funding for universal pre-k to support all families,” Johnson said. Currently, due to financial constraints, families are forced to pay on a sliding scale.

Three community learning centers are now operated at Mountain View/Glendale, Liberty Elementary (formally known as Lincoln Elementary), and Rose Park Elementary. However, the facilities are not as expansive as the one at Glendale/Mountain View. The district has already begun planning for the construction of even more community learning centers. These expansions would hopefully be able to grant more space for the ECP. Until then, Salt Lake City School District early childhood programs remain at other schools in the Salt Lake area. If interested, families may still register per usual.

How to Enroll?

Registration for the 2020-21 school year begins Feb. 26, 2020. Visit the website or call 801-974-8396.

 

Arts education empowers Salt Lake City

Story by PALAK JAYSWAL

Salt Lake City is home to a growing art scene. Whether it be intricate murals that color the sides of buildings or exhibitions and galleries, there is something for all art lovers. 

Many of the artists on the west side of Salt Lake City use their art as activism, teaching people about their culture through their work and educational experiences. Activists and artists find their path in several different ways, but increasingly on the west side, education seems to direct them.

Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), a program dedicated to bringing greater civic engagement to the west side, has seen the impact of art education. Working with organizations like the Mestizo Institute of Culture & Arts (MICA), Mayer-Glenn said, “Art is a way to connect with the community.”

One example of such impact is featured in the 2020 issue of “Community Voices,” the UNP magazine. A group of 10 youth artists participated in an art residency where they collaborated on the creative process. The result is a mural located at Sugar Space Arts Warehouse that explores the theme of cultural identity. One of the lead artists on the project, Ruby Chacón, holds an art legacy here in Utah — and she has experience with using her artistic voice for activism. 

Art as Activism

Chacón graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in fine arts. She credits her education as a catalyst to create art. “The experience of growing up in Utah as a person of color was kind of what informed my work,” Chacón said in a phone interview.

Yet she never imagined she’d become a teacher. After a negative experience with a guidance counselor in high school, who repeatedly told Chacón she would never graduate, the last thing on the artist’s mind was to become an educator.

Ruby Chacón posing next to one of her murals. Photo courtesy of Ruby Chacón.

It wasn’t until Chacón had her own son and had to think about what kind of educational experience she wanted for him that she understood she was in a position of great power. “I realized I need[ed] to go back and change from the ground up what needs to be changed in schools,” Chacón said. “I wanted to be the teacher that some kids might not have.” 

More than that, she wanted to execute in her teaching and art what she didn’t receive as a child: representation and a listening ear. “My whole experience of living in Utah and going through the school system and not seeing myself in books we read, images we saw — they did not represent me,” Chacón said. “For the longest time, I thought we were immigrants because that’s what everyone told us.”

Chacón wants to take control of her cultural narrative and show young kids they are allowed to dream and create art. When the dominant narrative is one that doesn’t include someone who looks like you, it has a lasting impact. Paying it forward is the next step to addressing this issue. 

Chacón’s TRAX Mural. Located at the Jackson\Euclid TRAX station, 850 W. North Temple. Photo courtesy of Ruby Chacón.

“It’s really important that they can see themselves reflected in a positive, dignified way to counter those narratives that are very poisoning to their identities,” Chacón said. She now teaches middle and high school art in a different state. As the co-founder of MICA, she still speaks fondly of the mission and organization: “It brings an insider’s perspective to share their voice through their art. It purposefully resides on the west side.” 

Education Empowers Artists 

Miguel Galaz, another west-side artist, didn’t realize he could pursue art as a career until he reached higher education and took an oil painting class at Salt Lake Community College. Eventually, he discovered the power of art and activism during a backpacking trip through Mexico and Central America, which helped his art career take off. 

“I was exposed to a lot of different cultures that were just fascinating,” Galaz said in a phone interview. “We went to a lot of Mayan ruins, we were just drenched with different colors, textures, food and music throughout the whole trip.”

This cultural deep dive is what led Galaz to understand what he wanted to present with his art. “I was born in Mexico, but raised over here (Utah). I sort of felt like an identity struggle of not belonging. So going on this trip made me feel connected with my identity and the richness of my culture,” he said.

In 2015, when a friend asked him to do a piece for a restaurant located in West Jordan, Utah, he wasn’t expecting controversy to occur. The experience shook Galaz to the core, but it was another pivotal moment.

Miguel Galaz’s mural in West Jordan. Photo courtesy of Miguel Galaz.

“It made me realize the power of art,” Galaz said. “How applying paint to a wall in a certain way to really impact people can move them.” This idea led to the creation of Roots Art Kollective. “We wanted to do something for our communities,” he said. “To inspire people to want to learn more.” 

Chacón and Galaz are just two of many examples of artists who believe in the power of  art education for students. On the west side, this education can lead to community, creation and connectivity. As Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of University Neighborhood Partners put it, “Art is a way to express repression and oppression.”