Letters to the Editor

August 17, 2001
Role models To the Editor:On August 4th I had the distinct privilege of attending the 5th Annual Awards Dinner for the Santa Paula Latino Town Hall. As a member of the Santa Paula Memorial Hospital staff, a resident of the town of Santa Paula and an employer in Santa Paula, I am proud to have been present for this wonderful evening.The seven men and women honored by the Town Hall are diverse and dedicated to the improvement of all of Santa Paula’s residents, not only to its Latino community. Every one of them is a remarkable role model for those of us who were in the audience. The ability to succeed in business, the arts, in education, and as individuals within the context of one’s ethnicity is an inspiration to everyone. I would personally like to congratulate Misters Ruiz, Reyes, Espinosa and Sepulveda, as well as Ms. Nelson, Ms. Salas and Ms. Michel for unshakable dedication to their ideals and for their belief that to succeed as a community we need to expand our individual spheres of influence and touch another person’s life.Steven L. Palmer, M.D.Santa Paula“Unwelcome” Welcome CenterTo the Editor:Did you know about the SPHS Welcome Center? It was to be what its name implied - a place where students and parents were welcomed into the school community and guided through the processes of enrollment, testing, and a myriad of other services. Officially coming into existence before Christmas, it opened with pride, hope, expectation, joy, speeches, dignitaries, ribbon cutting and catered refreshments.Located in a humbly furnished classroom at the bottom of the “Campus on the Hill” at 5th and Santa Paula Street, the Welcome Center is visible from the street. You can’t miss the colorful 18 foot sign over its entrance. “Bienvenidos” (“welcome” in Spanish) it proclaims atop a picture of green row crops which fan out to become a book (a powerful and significant image!). A golden sun shines above; its bottom colorfully festooned with our local crops: oranges, lemons, limes and avocados. Around the edges of the sun are the words “Harvest of Hope” and at its base in large white letters “The Welcome Center.” Any family new to Santa Paula would know what it meant... “Welcome! Come on in! Bienvenidos.” And welcome they would be. Walk in off the street, feel at home, say hello, introduce yourself, ask questions, understand, and experience the utmost courtesy and...trust.This Welcome Center staffing was funded by local migrant and immigrant allocations. Approved by the Board, it was the result of the work of many, but especially by our Special Projects Director, Dr. Carol Ramnarine and its heart - Martha Martinez. When the project was conceived, Dr. Ramnarine remembered and sought out a former student (Martha Martinez), because she had been struck by the young woman’s determination, courage, drive, work ethic and enthusiasm for education. Martha was a rare find and an excellent choice: someone in her late twenties who related well with teens and knew their concerns and obstacles about coming to a new school. Dr. Ramnarine struck gold. For you see, Martha had all the “school knowledge,” but she also had the knowledge you can’t get in college. Born in Mexico, Martha had experienced a life of dirt under her fingernails in the fields. When she and her family emigrated here Martha worked hard to get an education, perfect her English and go on to the university. She was the right person for the job... “Been there; done that!”What was the job? Making anyone and everyone from this community feel welcome and at home, answering questions about schooling and how to go through the process and focusing on the achievement of academic skills. But, it was a lot more.Being that a full third of our school are either migrants (340) or immigrants (170), we have those 510 students and their parents who need a dedicated knowledgeable human who understood their needs, concerns, fears, and hopes. One who had literally “been there and done that.” A vast majority of these parents have little or no formal education and are wary or frightened of institutions. They don’t know how to deal with our schools and feel they wouldn’t be understood or respected there. Few in a school can really understand their experiences unless they themselves have been there and done that.Martha had been there. Coming from the hard life of the fields, Martha was someone who knew the ins and outs of making the long journey from not knowing to knowing; from hard field work to the hard work of education. She had the people skills to help make the Institution of School more friendly. That’s a big job! She served people of all races and cultures. A rare and critical area of her expertise was in establishing relationships with people unfamiliar with our education set-up and earning their trust. As she once said, “I know these people. I am one of them. I know what their lives are like and I want to help them understand the importance of getting their kids into school, and I want to help keep them going on to graduation and beyond.”Martha’s method was deceptively simple: Welcome. Talk. Listen. Teach. Eat together. Prepare the ground. Laugh. Listen. Plant the seed. Explain. Show. Make coffee. Test. Drink coffee together. Encourage. Listen. Gain trust. Research. Plan. Establish relationships. Have potlucks. Hold babies. Praise. Get parents into schooling of their own. Scold. Listen. Encourage. Water the plant. Over and over and over again.The students and parents loved her and started to trust and returned again and again. Welcome Center numbers began to increase - 480 student contacts a month and more than 50 parents walking in each month knowing she had answers to questions and could help with academics and the business of schooling. There’s nothing like word of mouth from students and parents about good things happening. “Bienvenidos! Welcome!” Students came at lunch and after school for help with work. The rice in the pot was swelling! The thing was actually working and growing! Italians might say her blood, sweat and tears were in the bricks of the house she was building. They were.These, the “silent bread,” the working families, those whose children definitely have vast potential to be good teachers, honest mechanics, caring doctors, understanding school administrators, and solid citizens, recognized the Welcome Center for what it was: an Ellis Island of Education. A Port of Entry to higher learning here in Santa Paula. And like those who went through Ellis Island - a growing recognition that they are a vital living resource of strength and newness for America. A trust that “A Harvest of Hope” was most certainly attainable.Some teachers slowly began to realize that something special, something important, was going on down at the bottom of the hill in that little classroom. It was a point of help, a place of new pride and it was nourishing academic awareness. A few teachers began to volunteer to help tutor after school. Heart and selfless service beget heart and selfless service! Students who experienced the Center brought that richness to their regular classes. What could possibly be of more value and importance to a school than its students beginning to use a valuable resource of learning? The Center’s work was a deep grassroots building of bridges to walk across the divide from “don’t know” to “do know.” That’s called education.All who needed such help and advocacy were honored and happy that such a place was established. It was the truest “fieldwork” for in that field, trusting relationships were formed and fears gave way to confidence and the understanding that a good education was American as a hot dog (with salsa!) and as attainable! Here in the simplest way, in the simplest place, one could begin the journey to a better life, better work and college. The Center was geared and dedicated to helping make students weld to academics. It was so evident in early June that the planting was going to bear enormous future yields, especially when 130 parents showed up at an awards ceremony for over 80 students! An amazing “first pick” for being opened six months or so.Then suddenly without warning - a Tsunami! The embryonic Welcome Center not yet fully gestated, was ripped from the womb! Martha’s contract was not renewed and she was given her walking papers. All that planning! All that work! All those delicate, fragile, trusting, careful parent and student connections and contacts growing and budding were uprooted and thrown away! Why? To what purpose? The Welcome Center was closed. Why? The flourishing rich program was silenced! Why? A valuable Mexicano-Americano human resource was sent packing! The Center became quiet and still. The life crushed out of it.
It is incomprehensible that such a solid and growing educational venture should be erased from the life of the school seemingly without rhyme or reason. By whom? 70 of the shocked and upset students wrote a letter asking for Martha to stay and the Center to remain open. Martha left and the Center was shut down.The sign still says “Harvest of Hope.” But, is this such a harvest? This is a harvest of shock, shame, and embarrassment to so many who hear of this. Had this rude and abrupt stomping out happened to one of our academies, parents would have stormed the school with pitchforks and burning brands!!! But, with the Center... Silence! Shocked numb silence. If so much proudly proclaimed support, financial aid and guidance is given to relatively few others, why cannot at least this little be given to so many? The Welcome Center’s students and parents deserve the same courtesy and support... perhaps more, for their needs are in ways much more complex... and they are so willing to work and so grateful.Who will advocate for the sons and daughters of orchard, field, factory, garage, and bakery? Who will advocate for mothers trying to learn English, wanting their kids to do well in school and who now walk up to the Welcome Center and are told, “It is closed!” They don’t understand why. Neither do I. Neither do so many. Do you?If their sensitive, fragile carefully nurtured relationships are simply trashed as if they were meaningless, these people who began to trust may not trust again. This Welcome Center Child was beginning to grow. Why was there a silent abortive move and the utmost discourteous and humiliating closing?Do you know about this Center? Do you know of its inception, planning, care and joy and fun and productivity? Do you know of those it served? Do you know of its brief, but brilliant existence? Do you know of its now inactive silence... and its mute people who cannot understand and who do not yet know how to respond?A shocked and thoroughly disgusted Santa PaulanBasil AugustineSanta PaulaNot theonly victimsTo the Editor:It was Thursday night and I get a call, “Michelle, Fernando’s been shot.” That night my family became a victim of a tragic crime.We have read what “has occurred leading up to the incident.” But please stop to think for a few minutes, we are not the only victims. Rich Neill’s mother, grandparents, and family are too. We have deep sorrow for them, they hurt as well.Fernando, myself, and our family have prayed to forgive what he has done. We are all victims, no one wins. Let us all be in peace and thank God.I would like to also express how thankful we are, to all the people who came to our time in need: Our Lady of Guadalupe Church; Santa Clara Valley Bank; Sid, Elda Valdiva and family; Michael and Cherri Gomez; Griselda Mora; Helen and Cindy Perez; Angelica Nava; Jose, Cathy Garcia; the Nava family; Saiz family; Ben Saiz; Borjas family; Waldron family; and all who supported us.Fernando and Michelle GarciaSanta Paula

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