Sunnyside migrant students get experience in democracy


From left to right, Ricardo Mendoza, Uriel Velasco, Jessica Gonzalez, U.S. Congressman Doc Hastings, Virginia Frausto, Naomy Velasco, Nelida Ochoa and Maria Cervantes pose together in the congressman's office. The Sunnyside students were able to spend 30 minutes meeting with Hastings where they discussed topics covering immigration, education and gang violence.

Seven migrant students from Sunnyside High School recently were awarded the experience to travel to Washington D.C. and take part in the Bert Corona Leadership Institute.

The program gives students an experience in democracy by exposing the young minds to the inner workings of national government, as well as labor and business organizations, combined with leadership and economic development training and academic enhancement activities.

The program's goals are to strengthen civic participation at the national and local levels, strengthen and enhance academic skills, promote financial literacy and develop leadership within migrant and immigrant communities.

Bengie Aguilar, a data management specialist and trainer at the Migrant Student Data and Recruitment office in Sunnyside, said the students were offered the trip because of a grant Sonja McDaniels, the federal programs director for the Sunnyside School District, applied for. The grant was able to send the seven students to Washington D.C. Aguilar and her husband, Daniel, were the chaperones.

"It was really good to see the kids take the trip so seriously," Aguilar said. "They did a lot of maturing on the trip."

She said the students were expected to present and work with other kids participating in the program, which included students from Texas and Colorado.

The students, Nelida Ochoa, Jessica Gonzalez, Virginia Frausto, Naomy Velasco, Uriel Velasco, Ricardo Mendoza and Maria Cervantes all said they had a fun time and that the experience was good.

Besides learning such things as how to create an agenda, speaking in front of an audience and presenting information, the students also visited with Senator Marie Cantwell and Congressman Doc Hastings.

The students met in Hastings' office for 30 minutes and got the chance to talk with him about some of their concerns. The students thought this experience was the most rewarding.

"Since he is a Republican he's a little hard-headed but we got around him," Frausto joked.

She told the congressman there will be a Democrat in the White House next year prompting the congressman to respectively disagree.

The students spent their 30 minutes with Hastings talking about immigration, the DREAM Act, education, gangs and violence.

"He seemed very open," Aguilar added.

One topic the students brought up with Hastings was their disappointment the Sunnyside School District doesn't hire more administrators that are bilingual, saying it hurts some students and leaves Spanish-speaking parents in the dark sometimes.

According to the students, Hastings suggested they bring that matter up with the Sunnyside School Board at their next meeting.

While in Washington D.C. the students stayed at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf. During their stay they were able to learn a little sign language and also saw all of the tourist sites in Washington.

"It was a lot of walking," Uriel Velasco said of the touring.

But it was a good experience for the students and they were grateful to learn about leadership. The experience of meeting the other students in the program was rewarding, as well. Each one said they made new friends and Naomy Velasco said she still speaks with a girl from Colorado that was her roommate in Washington D.C.

. Corey Russell can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or you can e-mail


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