West Leadership students participated in a week-long, intensive course in October that allowed them to apply skills from their academic classes to real-world situations. Every year students are given the opportunity to choose a topic they are passionate about and spend one full week deeply exploring that topic. Options this year included culinary arts, performing arts, athletics, film, fashion design, finance and engineering. Students worked collaboratively on projects at school and also attended field trips to universities, museums, restaurants, and theaters in the Denver metro area.
On Friday, September 18th, all the 10th-graders attended a field trip to Genesee Park. It was a fun and unforgettable experience. We learned how to work as a team, to face our fears, and to trust in our classmates. The experience helped us as young teens learn that we can overcome anything as long as we set our minds to it. Thank you Ms. Klava, Mr. Curtiss, Mr. Filiowich, and Mr. Sanchez for this unforgettable and helpful life experience!
Trip report and photos by Ana Samayoa-Ramos, Luis Carrasco, and Joanna Wieser.
On June 4th, 2015 West Leadership Academy (WLA) celebrated its first eighth grade continuation. The participating students were the first sixth grade class at the school’s inception in 2012. The school has grown successively by adding grade levels as the students advanced. Next year, these students proudly enter high school at WLA.
Middle School Principal Dave Alex kicked off the event by welcoming the community and honoring the young learners. He emphasized the school’s three core values: integrity, scholarship, and citizenship and congratulated the students for embodying them throughout their time at WLA. Principal Alex described the events to follow and introduced distinguished guest City Council Member Paul Lopez.
Executive Principal Teresa Sena Klava continued with a heart-felt recognition of the students as pioneers of a unique learning environment that offers opportunities such as: college visits to familiarize students with the higher learning opportunities after high school (students grade 6-12 visit at least two colleges every year); special events like participation in the Latin-Eco Festival where Dolores Huerta implored students to act based on their passions by organizing groups; service learning projects like the cleaning of West Campus and Sunken Gardens Park; and explore courses that allow students to choose a week-long intensive course to explore a passion and learn through experience. Principal Klava shared an excerpt of the poem “The Bottom Line,” by Keith Kennedy:
FACE IT, nobody owes you a living.
What you achieve, or fail to achieve in your lifetime
is directly related to what you do or fail to do…
No one chooses his parents or childhood,
but you can choose your own direction.
Everyone has problems and obstacles to overcome
but, that too, is relative to each individual.
NOTHING IS CARVED IN STONE.
You can change anything in your life,
if you want it badly enough.
And never think it is too early to begin.
Time plays no favorites
and will pass whether you act or not.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE
Dare to dream and take risks…Compete.
If you aren’t willing to work for your goals don’t expect others to.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.
Principal Klava concluded by remarking that she’s known many of the students since they were in third grade, and she is proud -and honored- to be their principal at WLA. She challenged students to embrace their future, advocate for themselves and communities, and realize there is no limit to their future success. She concluded with special thanks to the parents and community for their continued support.
Student speeches by Blandy Ek-Cardoz, Brisa Ramirez-Anguiano, Lucciano Alire, and Armando Gutierrez included memories from their time as middle school students and gratitude for their teachers. They remembered being timid sixth graders brought out of their shells thanks to the encouragement of their first teachers here. They feel that their horizons are continuously expanding as students at WLA. Students also commented on the process of challenging boundaries, making poor decisions at times, but eventually learning how to be successful in a school that facilitates their development as young leaders.
Councilman Lopez, a 1997 graduate of West High School, proudly took the stage and reminisced that when he was in the students’ seats, he didn’t know what his future held. He said, “But you know exactly where you’re going, and it starts with a ‘C’!” Students shouted, “College!” He urged them to safely celebrate their success this summer and surround themselves with good friends, but to remember they’re West Cowboys. He remarked that West has a history of protest as students of a similar heritage were once treated poorly in this building. “The students in this school protested and played an important role in changing that.” He encouraged students to choose an identity, own it, be proud of it, but don’t step on someone else because of it. He quoted social rights activist Cesar Chavez, “Preservation of one’s own culture doesn’t require contempt or disrespect for other’s cultures.”
The final point made by Councilman Lopez was that there are literally millions of people in the world that would risk their lives crossing oceans and deserts to be in classrooms like theirs “so they better take the front seat!” He also reminded students that their families work to keep them in that seat. With this privilege comes great responsibility. Lopez concluded that if he speaks for these students again, he would like it to be as a guest in a college classroom.
WLA Dean Cris Sandoval then read each student’s name as they approached the stage guided by their middle school teacher. The students then crossed through the “Arch of Knowledge.” Awaiting them on the other side were high school teachers to welcome to the next phase of their education.
Today West Leadership Academy students learned about our core value of citizenship by participating in our third annual service learning day. Our Latin Dance Club kicked off the event with a great performance. Denver Parks and Recreation then assigned duties to all students and staff members. We spent the morning cleaning up Sunken Gardens and beautifying our campus by collecting trash, painting, sweeping, weeding and raking. Thank you to Denver Parks and Recreation for collaborating with us and giving us this opportunity to give back to our community!
On Monday, May 11th students, staff, parents, alumni and school board members attended the cornerstone dedication ceremony by the grand masonic lodge. The original cornerstone and time capsule were removed back in April. Student leadership opened the time capsule and found many items left to us by West High students in 1924, including a bible, stamps, rivalry cards, a long list of National Honors Society students, a picture of the school principal, letters, coins, newspapers, yearbooks, a flag and student handbooks. Some of these items will be put back into the time capsule for students to find in 100 years.
At the cornerstone dedication ceremony the alumni association and two student representatives from each school showed their contributions to the new time capsule. This story was featured on Channel 7 News.
Items put into the time capsule included books about the history of West, t-shirts, yearbooks, prom pictures, music on a CD that we hope will be playable in the future, newspaper articles about current events and a secret letter from the current head boy to the future head boy, assuming there will be a head boy in 100 years.
West Leadership Academy contributed collages showing 2015 trends, an empty bag of Hot Cheetos and an iPhone case.
The freemasons then re-enacted the original cornerstone ceremony. There were 3,000 masons at the dedication of the West High School building in 1924. Just like the original ceremony, the masons checked to make sure the cornerstone was square, level and plumb. Representatives from each school were given the honor of using a trowel to add cement to the cornerstone. Afterwards, the masons added corn, symbolizing nourishment and plenty, wine symbolizing refreshment and joy, and oil representing peace. The cornerstone will be replaced next week with our new time capsule. The contents of the time capsule won’t be seen again until the West High School community opens it in 100 years.
West Leadership students participated in a week-long, intensive course in March that allowed them to apply skills from their academic classes to real-world situations. Every year students are given the opportunity to choose a topic they are passionate about and spend one full week deeply exploring that topic. Options this year included Latin dance, culinary arts, visual arts, athletics, fashion design, science and technology. Students worked collaboratively on projects at school and also attended field trips to universities, museums, restaurants, theaters and stadiums in the Denver metro area.
West Leadership Academy was proud to host Carl Wilkens and his wife Teresa for an assembly for our high school students. As a humanitarian aid worker, Carl Wilkens moved his young family to Rwanda in the spring of 1990. When the genocide was launched in April 1994, Carl refused to leave, even when urged to do so by close friends, his church and the United States government. Thousands of expatriates evacuated and the United Nations pulled out most of its troops. Carl was the only American to remain in the country. Venturing out each day into streets crackling with mortars and gunfire, he worked his way through roadblocks of angry, bloodstained soldiers and civilians armed with machetes and assault rifles in order to bring food, water and medicine to groups of orphans trapped around the city. His actions saved the lives of hundreds. When he spoke today, he wove stories of 1994 with the past and the present in a way that made us think about what it means to have integrity and faith!
Many of the students were inspired by his quote, “We are not defined by what we lost-what was taken. We are defined by what we do with what remains.” He reminded us that good and evil are always present, it depends on what you look for in “the other.” He challenged us to think about our words and actions when we disagree with others. Powerful!
One girl said she is inspired to make a difference in others’ lives from what Carl told us. He reminded us that one person can make a difference. One person can do something small to help out others. We invite more students to share your stories of what you took away from Carl’s talk! Let’s start a conversation!
Our principal bought all the books Carl and Teresa brought so all high schoolers can read his book. The book is soon to be published in Spanish and we will buy copies for our Spanish speakers as well.
For more information about Carl and Teresa visit: http://www.worldoutsidemyshoes.org
In September of 2014 West Leadership Academy students attended a presentation at the second annual America’s Latin Eco-Festival (ALEF) with a focus on the contributions of Cesar Chavez in the environmental and social movements against industrial corporate agriculture in the 1960s.
Around 580 WLA students crowded into an art gallery in the McNichols Civic Center for the presentation organized especially for this event by ALEF Associate Director Kendra Sandoval. A celebrity panel led by activist writers, actors, comedians, and Chavez friends and family led the day-long presentation and discussion:
- Rick Najera- Broadway star, award winning author, and CBS producer of Diversity Comedy Showcase
- Edward James Olmos - Actor & Activist
- Andrew Revkin - DotEarth, NY Times, author of The Burning Season: The Murder of Chico Mendes and the Fight for the Amazon Rain Forest
- Denise Zmekhol - Filmmaker, Children of the Amazon
- Cesar Chavez Family - Liz Chavez and David Villarino
- Dolores Huerta - civil-rights activist, recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Although Cesar Chavez is principally known as a civil rights activist who fought for farmworker’s rights, his work to protect the workers was just as important as protecting the health of the larger community. According to Dolores Huerta, their cry to the public to help the union make the fields safer would in turn make the food safer for the wider public. This marked a pioneering moment in the organic food movement, especially for Latinos, as pesticides were the greatest threat to the farmworker and the consumer of the poisoned food.
The day’s discussions included Edward James Olmos’ call to the students to meet the challenge of acting as if all life has value and should be protected. He stated that greed is destroying our environment and creating a dire situation for all living things. He charged the students with a sense of urgency; that there is great work to be done in order to create a just world. Olmos voiced the students’ need to work with their community to solve problems by working with their peers and their teachers. According to Olmos, his generation has knowledge accumulated over years to change the world, but the youth is our hope since they are the future. The youth should learn from their elders because without knowledge, they are hopeless. Olmos went on to explain that our elders include the aging, wise members from the community, but also our teachers. The teachers should be honored because they are responsible for the success of the future. Gesturing to the students, he bellowed, “Without hope, knowledge dies!” If never before inspired to be passionately dedicated to a goal, this message flipped a switch in the heart of everyone in the room. Students were ready to take on any challenge.
The task may seem daunting with such an overwhelming burden laid upon our youth. Seemingly representing the students’ collective thoughts, a Leadership junior stood and asked the panel where to begin. Dolores answered by using her own experience as a model. She advised students to identify a problem, organize a group to break a problem into manageable challenges, and inspire others to take leadership roles. By building a community around an issue, people embolden each other and the burden becomes lighter. A younger student then stood and asked how to be courageous enough to act upon our ideals. Dolores said to begin the work as if it’s a workout. “It may be uncomfortable at first- it may cause you to feel ansioso, but the more you try, the stronger you’ll become. Eventually the verguenza of accessing the public and trying to change people’s minds turns to pride as you fight for something you believe in.” Dolores calls this gained quality of the activist “emotional fortitude.” She closed by leading the audience in a chant that expressed the simple message of where the power to change truly lies: Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power! What kind of power? People power! Oh, and years ago she also wrote the now famous slogan, “Si, se puede/ Yes we can!” Here at West Leadership Academy, we truly do believe we can.
Without focusing students on any particular goal, yet stating many important environmental and social issues that damage our living community, the panel led the second half of the presentation toward more concrete steps to guide students toward success in their activism. Among the essential elements of a game-changing activist, the panel advised students to lead by example. “If someone sees you doing something great, they’ll follow you.” They also cited Aristotle’s adage that in order to be a good leader, you need to be a good follower. Again they emphasized the youth’s need to take advice from the sages of the community; to do the best they can for their teachers and, eventually, graduate college. In the most impassioned moment of the presentation Olmos stood and asked everyone to raise their hand if they were going to college. He then scoured the room for anyone who refrained, then reasoned with them until they agreed that college is the best start for a chance at success in life. Olmos’ final advice for students is to follow his example. “I had the discipline to do what I loved, even when I didn’t want to.”