Immigrant Stories project shares youth voices as part of GSMS Bilingual Voices program

Students work together in a circle in Lucia Cambell's English Language Development class at Glenwood Springs Middle School on Wednesday morning. Through the school's Bilingual Voices Project, they were asked to share their personal stories as part of Walter Gallacher's Immigrant Stories series.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The stories are sometimes terrifying and often filled with sadness, while being openly revealing, heart-wrenching and heartwarming all at once.

And they need to be told, say the organizers behind a joint project to share the voices of Glenwood Springs Middle School second-language students with the larger community through the school’s Bilingual Voices showcase.

Walter Gallacher of Glenwood Springs has been compiling stories from adult immigrants across multiple generations locally for more than a dozen years via the Immigrant Stories series. The stories appear monthly in the Post Independent, based on transcripts from Gallacher’s audio interviews, which are aired on public radio station KDNK and published on his personal blog.

Recently, Gallacher was approached by Glenwood middle school teacher Lucia Campbell about sharing the stories her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students had prepared as part of a writing project in her English Language Development classes.

Portions of those stories are shared in this month’s Immigrant Stories feature, which appears in today’s Post Independent Education section.

The project grew out of the middle school’s expeditionary learning program, which emphasizes learning relevant to the students, and which serves the larger community, Campbell explained in her own radio interview with Gallacher recently.

“Our guiding question was, ‘Can sharing our stories help to change the stereotype that we see in our communities?'” Campbell said. “When the students share their stories, like understanding why they move here, what are the real reasons? Why are they here? … it might make you think twice … There are many reasons why these kids come here.”

To begin, area immigrant storytellers were invited via the Immigrant VOICES organization to help the middle schoolers develop their stories.

“Our core aim was to help Lucia and the other teachers and administrators at (Glenwood Springs Middle School) disrupt negative stereotypes around immigrants by building a story-sharing culture at the school,” VOICES’ Renee Prince said. “We conducted visual journaling workshops with newcomer kids to help them express big experiences and emotions through art, before sitting down to write their own immigration stories.”

Prince then worked with Beth Wysong from KDNK’s Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program (AZYEP) to record each student’s story.

As many Immigrant Stories as he has shared, Gallacher said the student stories were eye-opening for him.

“These kids have been through some real stuff, and they’re pretty honest about it,” Gallacher said. “It’s powerful in that it’s right here in our own community. We see it in the headlines, but here are these kids right here.

“Their experiences have helped to ground them, so they can start to feel safe.”

Last November, the students also shared their stories with parents during the school’s Celebration of Learning student showcase.

“It was one of the most powerful moments I’ve had at school,” Glenwood Springs Middle School Principal Joel Hathaway said. “These families and students were both empowered by the work — the idea that their unique stories matter to all of us.” 

Academically, he said students tend to perform best when they’re presented with opportunities to change the world.

“And that’s what is happening here,” Hathaway said. “Students have authentic audience, meaningful tasks and a motivating teacher they care about very much.” 

Campbell, an immigrant from Nicaragua herself, added: “This project would not have been possible without all the parts involved. It takes a village to make good things happen, and I am first and foremost grateful for my students inspiring resilience and the enthusiasm they bring to class every day. And, thanks to their families who supported this project.”

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