On a sunny winter afternoon, a dozen Granger High School students quietly read grade school books into headphones that record their words, which will be listened to by elementary students. The activity is routine for the students at Granger as part of the school’s Latinos in Action program, headed by teacher Janelle Johns.
Designed to empower Latino youths through culture, service and educational excellence, Latinos in Action is both a class and program offered at the junior and senior high levels throughout Utah. It encourages Latino students to utilize their language skills in supporting their schools and communities. Johns said the program, in its first year at the school, has made quite a difference among the Hispanic population at the school.
Fernanda Murrietta, a senior at Granger, was born in Mexico but grew up in Utah. She said as a result of her participation in the Latinos in Action program, she is learning things about her culture that she hadn’t had the opportunity to learn and enjoys volunteering.
The group travels weekly to Monroe Elementary School to sit side by side with students to work on math problems and word pronunciation. Murrietta has found that her bond with one Monroe student has been exceptionally rewarding,
“He really has come a long way,” she said. “I feel like I have made a difference and have helped him. I think it helped to have someone closer to his age explain things to him, and he just gets it.”
Andrew Busath, Kearns High School’s Latinos in Action coordinator, said his students have grown tremendously during the program's inaugural year. Seeing his 29 students blossom and thrive in a positive environment that promotes personal growth, Busath said he is not too concerned about the future of America.
“A lot of times these kids do want to do positive things and help. They want to show that stereotypes are wrong and that it doesn’t need to be this way,” he said. “I have a lot of hope for the future. We are in good shape.”
Busath’s group walks to nearby Beehive Elementary a couple times a week to work with students. Last fall, they manned booths and made cotton candy at Beehive’s Halloween carnival. Busath said his group has logged more than 500 hours of community service outside of school hours. His club is an elective class at the school and students must maintain a certain grade point average to continue in the program. Granger’s program also dictates that a minimum GPA must be met.
According to the Latinos in Action website — www.latinosinaction.org — as of 2010, Latinos in Action seniors stand at a 100 percent graduation rate from high school and an 85 percent college entry rate. The program is expanding and serves 54 schools in the state of Utah, one in Washington and another school in Jerome, Idaho.
Murrietta definitely plans on attending college and wants to enroll at the University of Utah.
Angie Manzanares is a former teacher and journalist. She currently works for the Granite School District as a public relations specialist. Her hobbies include photography, graphic design, dancing and screaming at Jazz games.