Very few times college students have the chance to sit, mingle, listen and learn from as well as with high school students. However last month, the Liberal Arts Literature class made room for a group of visitors from Salinas’ Alisal High School, and another group from Seaside High. All together, working in a collaborative manner, had a mission: to analyze Kelly Parra’s young adult novel Graffiti Girl.
“It is a lot easier to get through [the novel] and have a good time learning… especially interacting in small groups, and not being afraid to give an opinion,” said Felix Solis from Seaside High, visibly excited to engage in a discussion on literature side by side with college students in an spacious library room.
Parra’s novel tells the journey of Angel, a teen artist finding her identity trough her art, and making hard choices in a troubled community rich of cultural references to the Latino culture. This story resonates to the young readers. “That is the reality of high school where people are divided in groups,” said Vicente García from Alisal High. “It is about teens dealing with peer pressure; trying to fit in, find who they really are,” added Ixel Cervantes, also from Salinas’ Alisal.
Professor Miguel López, Liberal Studies teacher, is the one orchestrating the project. He invited teachers and mentors, Theresa González and Tessa Spurlock, and created the bridges between the two types of learners to participate in a collaborative experience. Last semester he hosted, in his class, a session with Kelly Parra, the nationally celebrated author, who is originally from Salinas.
Parra’s novel became the equivalent of a frog in a biology class. López set up the task: dissect it. “Work inside the text,” he asked the students. They were expected to identify the structure, find intricate relationships among characters, find evidence and dig deeper asking questions about meaning before arriving to any conclusion.
With markers and large sheets of papers, mixed groups of college and high school youth drew webs of connections of characters and themes; traced their trajectory, and figured out emerging themes, tensions, and possible meanings.
The task seemed much more complex than what high schoolers were used to, but more rewarding. Melanie Williams, from Seaside High, asserted “[this exercise gives us] new ways to look at the texts and new tools and ways to understand a book.
And Solis also from Seaside added, “Here we are expected to think critically, not to be fed the answers from the teachers.”
The animated discussion shows that there is not one right or wrong way to read. The students take home lessons and much inspiration: “[This activity] gives you insight not only on reading a book but also solving a problem in life… you analyze it and try to figure it out and come out to a conclusion. It is a lesson for life, it is like a tactic,” concluded Williams.
Besides sharpening skills in analysing literature, identifying moral questions, and social and ethical issues raised by the novel, students gained something else, a peek of college life. “[It] makes me relax, makes me feel like I want to go to college!” said Catalina Cruz from Seaside High about her visit to CSUMB as other students nodded in agreement.