Over the past year, Myrka Rodriguez — a 15-year-old 10th-grader at Johnson High School — has gained a deeper understanding of what it’s like to be a migrant student in Hall County.
Rodriguez is among a group of honor students at Johnson High who took on the challenge from two of their teachers to brainstorm an outreach program that would let migrant students know they are important. After researching and learning about the life of migrant workers and their children, these honor students came up with “Unwrapping Humanity.”
The simple, yet heartwarming gesture, called on Johnson students to raise funds from their families, friends and strangers so they could buy Christmas gifts for more than 400 migrant students.
“We took part in founding the program,” Rodriguez said. “(Teachers) taught us about migrant students and who they were because none of us really knew who these students were and we really didn’t understand what they had to go through.”
Teachers Frank Zamora and Thomas Stewart guided and encouraged their honors history of literature students on the project. The two teachers credit their students for getting it done.
On Monday, the teachers and their students helped to load all the gift-wrapped presents that will be handed out to 407 migrant students from elementary to high school and even 21-year-olds enrolled in special programs in the Hall County school district through the migrant education program. The gifts range from clothing to toiletries and more.
“We had one student who inspired one family to give $300 worth of gift cards,” Zamora said. “This student went out and spoke to this family and inspired this family to donate these gift cards. It’s that kind of giving that we’re seeing in the community. The students learn everything about the migrant workers here in the United States, and they share those stories in the community. It inspires the students and families to donate.”
For his part, Stewart said that throughout his eight years teaching, he’d heard about migrant education, but never really had a grasp of what it entailed.
“I don’t think until we started this endeavor, I never really had a true conception of what migrant education means,” Stewart said. “It’s interesting because we went on the road with (the honor students) to learn about their struggles, and why giving this small dose of Christmas joy is such a big deal.”
Zamora and Stewart said they would like to see every school district in Georgia do something similar to the Unwrapping Humanity project.
“We’re actually interested in figuring out a way further down the road how we can take this small school based project and make it possible in other schools,” Stewart said.
Vanesa Sarazua, Hall County’s migrant program facilitator, was instrumental in recruiting Stewart and Zamora to work on the outreach program for migrant students.
“This is the second year and we’d like to see it continue,” she said.
Stewart said the 50 students in the Honors Academy at Johnson High watched films — such as “La Cosecha (The Harvest)” — a documentary produced by Roberto Romano. He said the students also did research projects on migrants and came up with a song and logo to go hand-in-hand with Unwrapping Humanity.
Roberto Hernandez, a 15-year-old honor student at Johnson, said taking part in the outreach program has made him appreciate others who live a different lifestyle.
“I learned to give back to the people and show love for them,” Hernandez said.