P.E.O. SCHOLAR AWARDS | PSA
Scholar Awards TRANSCEND BORDERS by Rebecca Daniel, Chair, P.E.O. Scholar Awards Board of Trustees
Borders can be seen as barriers, but they can also provide opportunities to reach for the stars. Such is the case for two recent P.E.O. Scholar Award recipients.
Angélica Amezcua received a Scholar Award in 2020, but her road to that achievement
Chloe Sikes, a 2019 Scholar Award recipient, has a different connection with borders. As a student in Texas public schools, she noticed racial and socioeconomic inequities for advanced courses at her school. She became engaged in education through
was not always easy. When she was a child in Jalisco, Mexico,
Angélica Amezcua with her students
AmeriCorps, working for a college readiness access program in Illinois, and then in Texas. In both programs, she worked with first-generation high school students, mostly lower income students of color. Chloe’s job was to advocate for them to enroll in college. She learned about barriers these students faced, including being tracked into academic courses that did not allow them to be “college-ready” or have necessary coursework for their desired majors (such as advanced math and science courses), massive financial barriers, even with financial aid, and linguistic and institutional barriers that were difficult for many families to navigate. She decided to stay involved in examining the aspects of inequity that impact students’ education. Chloe sees significant barriers to equitable educational opportunities. This informed her doctoral dissertation work on how school boards understand the role of race in immigration policy, affecting decisions for their school communities. She sees this now as Deputy Director of Policy at Intercultural Development Research Association, working to advance equity in public education by “building on the strengths of students and parents in their schools.” Chloe stresses two key points about immigrant students, those who like Angélica, have crossed the borders into the United States: 1. They have a protected legal right to attend public schools, and 2. Immigrant residents are taxpayers into our public-school systems. She believes that to misunderstand these points and deny immigrant students and their families access to K-12 public schools is to deny the true purpose of public education—to educate all children to be thinkers, contributors, critics and leaders in our society.
her parents had to make a drastic decision. Knowing that education is key to opportunities, they were willing to do anything to ensure that Angélica and her siblings could receive a good education, even if it meant leaving everything behind and starting a new life in the United
States. In 2000 they made the decision to cross the border. Angélica is grateful for the education she has received, but from a young
age she raised questions, which as a scholar today she continues to investigate. Her classes on this side of the border were primarily in English, and she gained proficiency in that language—a necessary skill for acclimation into this country. But even as a child she wondered why she, in learning English, had to lose her literacy in Spanish. She asked herself why this linguistically diverse country does not promote bilingualism and language maintenance. She learned that only about 8 percent of Chicano students graduate with their bachelor’s degree, a disparity that she believes has partial roots in a failure of educators to value the original language and culture of their students. Now her goal is to allow her students to surpass this 8 percent mark. She is doing that as assistant professor, Spanish, and director of the Spanish Heritage Language program at the University of Washington. Knowing that immigrant students can face unique challenges, Angélica strives to give them confidence in their own cultural and linguistic identity. She asks them to write poetry about their identity and bilingualism—in Spanish. Students explore the linguistic landscape of Spanish in their neighborhoods, gaining a sense of pride in their community’s history, learning the origin of Spanish street names. As an immigrant herself, Angélica is proud that she can now guide other first-generation students.
We can be proud that through the PSA project we support scholars like Angélica and Chloe as they work to spread loving concern to our immigrant population.
THE P.E.O. RECORD | March–April 2022
Women helping women reach for the stars
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