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AHS fund-raiser shines light on race relations

Allyn Harvey

There may be more to the success behind Wednesday’s fund-raising drive at Aspen High School for earthquake victims in El Salvador than dollars and cents.

Lots of money was indeed raised, a little over $1,400 in just 40 minutes, and it will be donated to a charitable organization working directly for victims of the earthquake that killed more than 700 earlier this month.

The fund-raising effort, which ran over three days last week, put Aspen High School’s 19 Salvadoran students on center stage. A preliminary survey of students indicates that it just might have raised racial awareness at the school. And it could make life a little easier this year for the school’s Latino population.

“I think it has helped,” says junior Shannon Broughton. “You see there isn’t any racism at Aspen High, but you also see there isn’t much conversation or connection with the ESL [English as a Second Language] students either. This really helps.”

Broughton is not alone in her take on the situation.

“It was heart-warming to see the non-ESL kids wearing ribbons in support and the smiles on the faces of the Salvadoran kids,” said one teacher.

“I’ve heard several teachers say it put

them, the Salvadorans, in a good light,” said Linda Lafferty, the teacher in charge of the high school’s English as a Second Language program.

Sophomore Thomas Machado began with a speech at a school assembly on Monday. Then on Tuesday, the Salvadorans, many of whom are just learning to speak English, split into pairs and gave presentations in front of every class at the high school. On Wednesday, officially dubbed El Salvador Awareness Day, a lunchtime fund-raising extravaganza was held, including ribbons, cake and plenty of thanks to donors.

“I don’t think any of us knew what was going on down there,” said Merrit Moses, a ninth-grader who was sitting with classmates Missy Seigle and Jessica Mann.

“Thomas [Machado] came and spoke to our class, and he’s only about 17. He really explained it well,” chimed in Seigle.

“Thomas didn’t even know any English before he came here in September – now he’s fluent,” added Mann.

That Machado, whose speech to the assembly was personal in its flavor and passionate in its tone, impressed Mann, Moses and Seigle so much bodes well for his fellow Salvadoran classmates at Aspen High School.

“Usually it’s just harder to include them,” Moses admitted. “This gave us a chance to get to know them.”

Tenth-grader Reid Hansen agrees. “It did help. I didn’t know they were so hard-working,” he said.

Down in the red seats, which fill the pit at the center of the lunchroom, junior Joey Hanson and senior David McLennan noted that El Salvador Awareness Day made people interested in both the country and its people.

“Kids would go up and ask them about living conditions and working conditions, and what it was like before they got here compared to what it’s like now,” Hanson said.

“A lot of kids seemed to be into helping out, instead of saying, `Whatever, it’s you’re problem, not mine,'” McLennan said.

Neither Hanson nor McLennan was too sure about the long-term effects of the awareness day on the student body’s racial attitudes.

“I was already friends with a couple of them,” McLennan said. “It’s not like they were totally ignored.”

And it’s not like there was much mixing going on at lunch Thursday. The Salvadoran and Mexican students were sitting at a table by themselves, and the rest of the lunchroom was filled with small and large groups of students eating and socializing in a way that looked familiar and comfortable.

“Kids hang out with their friends most of the time,” said counselor Karen Angus.

Junior Kelle Edwards wasn’t too sure things would change, either. She donated a little money “because it sounded like they need the help.” But she was doubtful she would end up knowing the Latino contingent at Aspen High any better than she does now, which is hardly at all.

“I would think that one day is not enough time to tell if anything changed,” Angus said. “Yesterday, though, I did see a lot of kids interacting with the Salvadoran students.”

Salvadoran ninth-grader Angelica Garay, sitting with her Latino and Latina classmates at lunch Thursday, said talking to the locals has become easier.

“The first time we talked to them, I was so nervous, but then it went down,” she said, referring to the presentations she and other Salvadorans gave to classes.

Until last week, Garay said she didn’t interact with the native English speakers too much. “But everyone was so considerate when we talked. Kids are more friendly now,” she said.

Arazely Garcia, a second-year student who hails from Mexico, liked the outcome of El Salvador Awareness Day for its effects on relations between Latino students. “I think it helped because a lot of Latino students cooperated to raise money,” he said.

Garcia said he isn’t sure if things will change much between the races at the school. For one, he’s already made a number of friends among his Anglo classmates, through class projects and basketball. He also recognizes that a lot of students are going to keep on being the way they’ve always been – polite, friendly and distant – while others are going to stay away for a different reason.

“Some kids are racist,” he said. They whisper and snicker and act out with each other in a way that makes kids like Garcia uncomfortable. “They’re pretty bad. We don’t say nothing to them.”


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