As a high school freshman, Jesus Alejandre was a shy student who didn’t look his teachers in the eye. When asked to speak in front of a classroom, he lowered his gaze to the floor and spoke quietly. “I didn’t like speaking in front of people because I was worried about how I sounded as an English language learner,” he said.
You would not recognize Jesus today. This summer, as the Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) intern in Yosemite National Park, he confidently taught lessons about wilderness skills and leadership. Jesus helped guide students through 40 days of outdoor expeditions and personal reflective writing. Fulfilling ARC’s mission, he worked with the staff to empower underserved youth through integrated literacy and wilderness experiences.
Jesus offered a unique perspective, having walked in the shoes of those he was teaching. As a 2012 graduate of the 40-day summer immersion, Jesus experienced the physical challenge, the personal growth, the transformation. The creative writing he crafted during the course gave him a sense of pride and liberation.
“I was stuck with my story of how I immigrated here,” he said, “I was the only one that knew my story and all my life I’d never shared it. The poetry gave me the opportunity to liberate myself from that burden. I wasn’t afraid to say who I was and where I came from. It made me tremendously proud.”
Many of the ARC participants, both in Truckee and Yosemite, experienced similar insights while writing their poetry this summer. Students revealed stories of loss, struggles with confidence, conflicts with parents, challenges in school, and more.
Jesus felt proud watching the students perform their poetry, as they opened doors into their lives. “It’s really tough to say some of these things out loud and it takes a lot of courage. It was a heartwarming feeling for me to see this summer’s students experience what I did,” Jesus said in a déjà vu moment. “I was able to tell the students about my stories and relate to them a little bit better. I was able to look back and reflect—and see how far I have come since I was an ARC student.”
As a first-time instructor, Jesus experienced the hours and effort, the thought and dedication that the ARC staff pours into each of the participants. He developed confidence and won the respect of the staff and participants. By the end of the course he had a strong voice on the staff team.
Jesus says, “What ARC does for youth is give you life.” Before Jesus started ARC, as an immigrant, he didn’t have voice or choice; since ARC, he has realized that he can fulfill his dreams and hopes. Being an outdoor educator is an important goal in his life now.