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Johnson students, teachers collect gifts for migrants
Project turned into learning process
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Hundreds of gifts are stacked at Johnson High School. All the gifts were purchased or collected by Johnson Honors Academy students and given to migrant students in Hall County.

When Vanesa Sarazua approached two Johnson High School teachers about a project, she wasn’t sure what reaction she would get.

Sarazua is the migrant program facilitator for Hall County Schools, and she wanted the help of the school’s Honors Academy students and their teachers, Frank Zamora and Thomas Stewart, to bring Christmas gifts to migrant children.

“Back in about September I approached coach Zamora and Mr. Stewart about maybe helping get some gifts for the migrant children in the district,” she said. “At first, they were a little overwhelmed with the whole idea, because we have 400 students in the district that are migrant.”

“Migrant” refers to the children of agricultural workers, Sarazua said. Migrant workers may travel the country following seasonal, temporary jobs, while their family resides in one location. Hall County’s strong agricultural industry makes it a hot spot for migrant workers and their families.

Many of these young people even work with their families in the field.

“They make Gainesville their home,” she said. “During the summer they might go work alfalfa in Wyoming, and then cherries and apples in Washington, and then come back to Gainesville.”

Zamora and Stewart presented the gift idea to 50 of the students in the high school’s Honors Academy, who agreed to take on the project.

“They took on this project, but they did so much more than that,” Sarazua said. “They learned about who the migrants are in the country. They did a migration map and studied what these students and their families do.”

The students watched films and did research projects about migrants in America and created a program called “Unwrapping Humanity,” to fundraise for the gifts.

“It’s something they created just for this, an organization with officers who had different responsibilities,” Sarazua said. “I mean, they turned it into a big-time learning opportunity.”

They were able to put together 350 gift boxes for migrant children, each box full of multiple gifts.

Zamora is also sponsor of Johnson’s Hispanic Organization Promoting Education, dedicated to promoting service, leadership and education in the Hispanic community at the school. The group’s mission is well in line with the work done by the honors students.

Sarazua said the students have plans to make the program an annual project and pass it on to other classes.

“It’s just an incredible thing they did,” Sarazua said. “It turned out great, because we have such organization in the school system and we were able to give out the gifts before we went on break. And even more than giving the gifts, I think the biggest thing here is what this did for the students who were giving, how much they learned and how much they wanted to do for these children.”

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