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Partnership between Iowa State and Marshalltown High School highlights Latina/o/x voices

Ashton Tack
A bulletin board in Kristin Stuchis’ class at Marshalltown High School, which highlights the achievements of the MUJERES group.

A partnership between educators has given high school students the tools to find their voice through writing college essays.

Spanish teacher at Marshalltown High School Kristin Stuchis was inspired by Lucía Suárez, the director of Latino/a Studies at Iowa State, to seek a mentorship opportunity for her students.

Stuchis is an advisor for a Latina feminist group at Marshalltown called the MUJERES, which was created by students searching for strong female mentors in their lives.

“They came to me as freshmen and asked if I would help sponsor a club,” Stuchis said. “They wanted to educate themselves and to create a safe space, to empower… and to fill a niche that they felt they didn’t have.”

The MUJERES were established, and they gained support in the first three months from Al Éxito, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the lives of Latinx youth. From the start, the MUJERES planned to expand further than their community.

“Their hope was to expand it not only in our school and the middle school but to create a curriculum that would reach the whole state through Al Éxito,” Stuchis said.

The idea of collaborating was initiated after Suárez met with the MUJERES through video call. Suárez applied for the Miller Grant, which she won. Through the grant, Suárez and Stuchis brought the MUJERES and Iowa State students together in three writing workshops centered around tutoring for college essay writing.

“We had a tutoring component,” Suárez said. “My students tutored her students on college essay writing. Why college essay writing? ‘Cause college essays are personal stories.’”

Suárez felt that this collaboration was something that enriched both the MUJERES students and the Iowa State students mentoring them. She stressed the importance of telling life stories and how they connect people.

“What is interesting to me is what’s the story and how can we engage with that story? How can we read it? How can we share it?” Suárez said.

Stuchis spoke about how important engagement was for her students, especially coming out of isolation from the pandemic.

“The engagement was a huge piece,” Stuchis said. “Students were leaning in. They were vibrant, full of enthusiasm and connected… which are a couple pieces that are notably different after COVID. It was very difficult to get students to open up again and to connect with others. They had so much forced isolation that it had ripple effects.”

Deanna Hernández, a member of the MUJERES, spoke about her experience in this partnership.

“When we first met together, their energy was so positive,” Hernández said. “It felt supportive, and it felt like they wanted to meet us and they wanted to see us grow. That’s something that I love to see and love to be around, and it’s something that we also want to give back to our community.”

“I really liked collaborating with the college students because they brought a unique perspective,” Natalie Andrade, a member of the MUJERES, said. “Before, I wasn’t really sure how the project would come out… but I really liked it, and I think it really helped a lot.”

Andrade was awarded the Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award for her writing and was honored for her role in starting the MUJERES at Marshalltown.

On Sunday, the U.S. Latino/a Studies Program (USLS) held an exhibit at the Ames Public Library, highlighting Latina/o/x memoirs. It was hosted by Suárez and featured a brief presentation about the projects that Suárez’s students created in class and in partnership between USLS and the MUJERES. At the event, Stuchis shared her experience teaching memoirs to her high school students.

“I found that students are much more excited about reading when they get to read about their story or when they get to read about their parent’s story,” Stuchis said. “I’ve had students, really excited, saying, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever seen myself reflected in a book.’”

USLS ambassador and senior in construction engineering Alexa Garcia spoke on her experience in this class and the importance of memoirs to her.

“For me, it means having a representation of what that experience is like and knowing I’m not the only person who has felt like this,” Garcia said. “Living is hard, especially when you’re in college… when you’re trying to break those generational barriers and create your own life.”

The exhibit features posters created by the USLS students showcasing the different memoirs they found meaning in. It is displayed at the entrance to the Ames Public Library for the remainder of Hispanic/Latino/a/x Heritage Month, which ends Oct. 15.

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