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IMAGINANTES Bilingual Youth Workshop

Poudre River Public Library District

Innovation Summary

Latino youth from low-income neighborhoods participate in an intensive one-week bilingual workshop exploring socially relevant themes and creative expression techniques. Each day presented a theme based on the work and lives of Latino artists and writers. Participants applied each theme to their context through creative writing, drama, and visual arts.

Innovation Leader: Irene Romsa, Outreach Services Manager, iromsa@poudrelibraries.org

Problem Statement

Low-income Latino youth are an at-risk population due to many factors. They can easily become disconnected from school, their communities, and sometimes from their families and heritage. The consequences of this disconnection include gang membership, school failure, drug use and low esteem. Numerous studies show that youth engaged in self-destructive behaviors many times have lacked positive role models and opportunities that connect with them in an appealing way. Although the Library has many resources and strives to remain a community hub; many youth do not see libraries as relevant to them. An added challenge presents itself during the summer months when many service agencies and resources, such as Food Bank and school counselors, cannot maintain continued support to those families they traditionally serve through the schools. All these factors were considered when designing the IMAGINANTES Bilingual Youth Workshop. In order to re-engage this population, we partnered with agencies, donors, and humanities experts to develop a summer bilingual workshop focused primarily on Latino youth in grades 6th through 12th. Great effort was placed in creating a safe and positive environment for the youth. The workshop presented not only a historical perspective of immigrants in the region, but also provided an opportunity to meet and speak to successful Latino social entrepreneurs, authors, scholars, artists, and local leaders. Personal reflection and expression were encouraged each day; and students were appropriately equipped with narrative tools including storytelling, drama, and visual arts. Trusted and experienced social workers were also at hand throughout the week to provide individual support to those youth who needed it.

Innovation

The workshop was the first of its kind, and revolved around crucial conversations and sharing of stories, through which an exchange of experiences and expertise happened; flowing not only from humanities scholars, renowned artists, and community leaders; but also from some of the youth who functioned as mentors to others. A total of 11 scholars were recruited to lead sessions throughout the week. These people ranged from community activists and former migrant farmworkers to college professors and award winning authors. On a schedule of 8am to 4pm daily, the students attended a series of interactive presentations and hands-on classes that introduced them to two key socially-relevant issues: “The coming and history of Latino Farm workers s in Northern Colorado” and “The Value of Speaking Diversely (being bilingual).” The art forms explored helped the youth channel their inner expression. The week included instruction on: the written word (short stories & poetry), script-writing, dramatic arts (storytelling), and visual arts (photography and murals). The group of 19 participants was referred through their school counselors, parent groups, and after-school groups. Direct recruitment was done by approaching parents in low-income neighborhoods. The week-long, full-day workshop was free of charge and included meals, supplies, and transportation to the offsite location. We also designed into the workshop a Closing Ceremony on the final day, where we showcased to family members, public officials, the artist community, and Library leadership the work and accomplishments of these youth of the Imaginantes workshop.

Progress

The project proposal was so compelling that it was awarded grants from Colorado Humanities, Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Fund, and Colorado State University totaling $9,500. In addition, we received several in-kind donations and all presenters were booked before we knew if we would receive grant funds to pay them speaking fees. This spoke to their commitment to the project and the Library. Presenters included renown and award-winning illustrator Rafael Lopez. The workshop was such a positive experience for the presenters that they all offered to participate in future Imaginantes workshops even if there were no funds available to pay for their fees. On the participants’ side, although some confessed to having been enrolled almost forcefully by their parents; by the end of the week they had gotten together to formally request us to continue the workshop for one more week. This was not possible, but their enthusiasm was so encouraging that this year we are having our second Imaginantes Youth Workshop, with the support of partners such as the Friends of the Library, Food Bank of Larimer County, and Colorado State University. The ultimate goal was to provide the Latino youth with an opportunity to discuss, explore and articulate the issues facing them. By reflecting on these issues, many of the students have become active and positive agents for change in their communities; as they acquire an appreciation for their heritage. Several have joined our troops of active library volunteers. Participants also learned that all art forms tell a story; and that within, they also have a story to tell.