James Juarez helps Michael Trevino analyze examples of prejudice and discrimination. Photo by Tamara Sager.
James Juarez helps Michael Trevino analyze examples of prejudice and discrimination. Photo by Tamara Sager.

It isn’t every day that a group of middle schoolers get together to learn and understand what makes The Golden Rule so precious. But that’s exactly how the eighth graders at Navarro Academy spent the first 2.5 weeks of their summer vacation.

Navarro Academy is a non-traditional, primarily high school campus. The eighth grade addition was piloted last school year to help over-age middle schoolers get back on track for graduation. To ensure the success of future middle school cohorts, an eighth grade camp, Navarro Navigators, was created to help the next cohort transition from middle school to high school.

Eighth-graders from many SAISD middle schools applied, interviewed, and were selected to become Navarro Navigators. Those eighth graders had the opportunity to attend a two and a half week summer camp, led by myself, Monica Rodriguez, and James Juarez, to learn about social justice and to get a head start on their high school credits.

From the very beginning, the students were challenged to use their critical thinking and analytical skills to understand the concepts of stereotypes and prejudice as they learned about the genocide that took place in the Holocaust and were given an introduction to sociology. 

After completing several activities to help students understand the harm of labeling and prejudging others based on appearances or personal predilections, students had the opportunity to attend the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio. Rose Williams, Holocaust survivor, spoke to the middle schoolers about her experience in the concentration camps.

Rose Williams, Holocaust survivor, shares her story with Navarro students at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo by Tamara Sager.
Rose Williams, Holocaust survivor, shares her story with Navarro students at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo by Tamara Sager.

Making students aware of discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudice was only one aspect of the summer camp. The Navarro team wanted to encourage students to do more – by giving back to the community. As a part of this mission, students volunteered their time at the San Antonio Food Bank by sorting donations and packing boxes alongside members of the community. Students learned about the importance of helping others in both direct and indirect ways.

One of the most inspiring moments of the entire camp was when I got to witness one of my Navarro scholars, Mya Gomez, pair up with a blind man – a complete stranger – to help him sort food and pack boxes, and she did so with such grace and humility. Instead of complaining about packing boxes, students worked together efficiently and with smiles on their faces and all for the sake of improving the community.

In the inner city, many of our students haven’t had the opportunity to see what the rest of the world has to offer. As our yellow school bus pulled up in front of Enchanted Rock, students laughed nervously, exclaiming, “There’s no way we’ll be able to climb that mountain, Miss!”

After hiking for a little more than two miles, we began our ascension up the rock. No child was left behind. We all made it. Jasmine Trevino was impressed with the trip.

“I learned a lot from going on field trips, like walking up the enchanted rock,” she said. “I learned that that walk is like life – there are always going to be problems, but you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it.”

Abigail Pena, Jasmine Trevino, Marina Velasquez, Felicity Ross, Deandra Llamas, Chassidy Alcorta and others hike through Enchanted Rock state park. Photo by Tamara Sager.
Abigail Pena, Jasmine Trevino, Marina Velasquez, Felicity Ross, Deandra Llamas, Chassidy Alcorta and others hike through Enchanted Rock state park. Photo by Tamara Sager.

Throughout the course of the camp, students were challenged to confront their fears and discover their beliefs by composing “This I Believe” essays inspired by Edward R. Murrow’s original broadcasts from the 1950s. Students wrote on a variety of subjects, ranging from beliefs in karma to second chances to guardian angels.

Saul Martinez wrote: “(I believe) that we are creating a culture where it’s okay to avoid eye contact and true human relationships for the sake of detached messages received on a screen.”

Many students composed essays depicting the lessons that their adversities had taught them about the world. The pure resilience, strength, and wisdom portrayed in their essays were nothing short of inspiring.

While the summer camp has officially come to an end, the staff at Navarro would like for students to be pushed to improve their community and learn about the world around them, not just their barrio. Planning more field trips is in the works to serve as both an extension to the learning taking place in the classroom and to keep up the momentum from the summer camp. Trips to volunteer at SAMMinistries and a tour of the Toyota Museum have been preliminarily planned for the upcoming school year. You can show your support by giving ideas for ways our navigators can give back, volunteer, or see a part of the world they haven’t yet seen to reinforce the ideas of tolerance.

Navarro Navigators made it to the top of Enchanted Rock. Pictured left to right: Alannah Vasquez, Deandra Llamas, James Juarez, Jasmine Trevino, Mya Gomez, Tamara Sager, Felicity Ross, Briana Perez, Emily Abrego, Abigail Pena, Marina Velasquez, Saul Martinez, Kneeling: Duriel Arcos, Emily Lamas, Chassidy Alcorta, Kristopher Delgado. Courtesy photo.
Navarro Navigators made it to the top of Enchanted Rock. Pictured left to right: Alannah Vasquez, Deandra Llamas, James Juarez, Jasmine Trevino, Mya Gomez, Tamara Sager, Felicity Ross, Briana Perez, Emily Abrego, Abigail Pena, Marina Velasquez, Saul Martinez, Kneeling: Duriel Arcos, Emily Lamas, Chassidy Alcorta, Kristopher Delgado. Courtesy photo.

*Featured/top image: Abigail Pena, Jasmine Trevino, Marina Velasquez, Felicity Ross, Deandra Llamas, Chassidy Alcorta and others hike through Enchanted Rock state park. Photo by Tamara Sager.

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Tamara Sager

Tamara Sager is a Teach for America Corps member and one of several organizers of the SAISD Benefit Concert.