This past Spring Break, I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life. As you may have read in one of my previous posts, I was blessed with the opportunity to lead an immersion trip to East Palo Alto, California. Describing the entire trip would take me many, many blog posts, so instead I have decided to highlight a few key moments:
The High School Retreat
As soon as we got off the plane in San Francisco, we were driven to Mission Springs, a Christian camp and conference center in Scotts Valley, CA, to go on a retreat with a group of high schoolers. We had a bit of an idea as to what the weekend would look like, but most of what occurred was a surprise to us. The retreat ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip because of the students we got to meet. They didn’t come from the best situations; during a testimony-sharing portion of the retreat, some students revealed that they had been pressured by family and friends to join gangs or sell drugs. After getting to know them, it was almost hard to believe that they had rough lives because of all the joy and passion they have for life. The students inspired me, and the rest of the group, to find happiness amidst the chaos of life. The campsite itself was phenomenal. It was in the middle of the woods, and we were lucky enough to take a hike to the highest point. The view is something I will never forget!
Since our trip was education focused, we did a lot of work with a Christian youth ministry service, Bayshore Christian Ministries, as well as learning about the educational environment around East Palo Alto and in the United States. One particular day, we visited a magnet school in the area, and on another we visited a public K-8 school. The difference between the two was astonishing. The students at the magnet school had all the supplies/equipment that they needed to provide a quality education for their students. The public school lacked severely in funds to the point where it did not have enough money to provide balls for the kids to play with during recess. It was heartbreaking to learn the statistics of the 600 kids that attend the public school: 100% of the students come from low-income households; 75% are not at grade-level reading or writing; 50% are homeless. With statistics like those, it is no wonder that the school is in the bottom 20% of schools in California. The two schools were perfect examples of how education across the country is very unequal. As a future teacher, this infuriates me, and motivates me to be the best teacher I can possibly be so I can provide a great education for my students.
San Francisco Adventures
East Palo Alto is about 30 minutes away from San Francisco, so we spent one day exploring the city and surrounding area. Our first stop was the Muir Woods, a national park in Mill Valley. The trees in the park are Redwoods, so they are ridiculously tall. The beauty in the park was amazing and a reminder to me of just how beautifully God made this earth. After the park, our group split up into smaller groups and we tackled San Fran separately. My group went to Lombard Street, the curviest road in America, Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight Ashbury, the birthplace of the counter-culture movement in the 60s, and even saw a TV show being filmed! Take a look at the pictures!
All in all, the immersion trip was one of the best experiences of my life. I would encourage anyone reading this to think about going on an immersion trip next year. If you have any questions about my trip, feel free to ask! For a different perspective on the trip, check out Steve’s post!