Before joining the Lee College Puente Project and deciding to pursue an associate degree in Mexican-American Studies, Maria Avalos hardly knew the historical significance of many places she saw and visited in Baytown everyday.
Now, Avalos and four other Puente students will be featured presenters at the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies 2015 Tejas Foco conference - sharing the story of Lorenzo De Zavala Elementary, originally named The Mexican School, as part of a panel discussion on what generations of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans have experienced in the Baytown community.
"I'm an immigrant so I can really relate to it," said Avalos, who first learned the origins of De Zavala Elementary during a social justice tour of the city organized by the Puente Project. "When you come to the United States, you feel like you have to do whatever you can to get a job and that's it. The school was one of the first places where Mexicans dreamed and learned they could do so much more in life."
The Puente Project at Lee College aims to increase the number of underserved students who transfer to 4-year colleges or universities, earn college degrees and return to their communities as leaders and role models. Latino students are provided with academic support centered on integrated reading and writing, English and an introduction to Mexican-American Studies; connected with community mentors; and exposed to new cultural experiences.
More than a dozen Puente students have been invited to present at the Tejas Foco conference, to be held Feb. 26-28 at Lone Star College-North Harris. In addition to the Baytown history panel discussion, students will speak about domestic violence and sexual assault, and describe what it's like to be the first person in their family to go to college.
"I am extremely excited," said Emily Trevino, who learned about the conference from Mexican-American Studies coordinator and Puente instructor Orlando Lara. "Being in the Puente program and being here at Lee College has honestly changed my life because I have had so many great opportunities - scholarships, contacts, a mentor - that I wouldn't have otherwise."
Lee College Puente Project students featured at 2015 Tejas Foco Conference