You gotta love them. It doesn’t matter where they come from, whether they are rich or poor, from tough backgrounds or privileged, tall, skinny, short, fat, angry at the world or in love with it, sociable or shy, decked out in their very best or in raggedy jeans. When they are together, treated to a day off school, free to roam the innovative Museum of Discovery in Fort Collins for a morning, they become loud and laughing, filled with joy and enthusiasm, constantly on the move, just loving life in general.
More than 70 high school students from Fort Morgan, a town of 11,000 souls in eastern Colorado bussed to Fort Collins to spend a special day. Natives of Guatemala, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mexico—and many more countries I imagine, these kids participated in a program initiated by Colorado State University professor Eric Ishiwata who specializes in working with communities to assimilate an influx of immigrants into a community. In Fort Morgan nearly 20 percent of the population is foreign born and more than a third of households speak a language other than English.
At the request of the English language learning instructor at Fort Morgan high school, Ishiwata initiated a semester-long program using CSU first-generation college students to interact and mentor the Fort Morgan high schoolers. They provided classroom assistance and in the process found commonalities with the students and developed surprising, life-changing relationships with each other.
Three CSU alumni of the College of Liberal Arts combined their talents and interests to produce a documentary film, Who I Am, to tell these young peoples’ stories “from the inside out.” Producer Amy Hoeven, who grew up in Sterling, 45 miles from Fort Morgan, found herself compelled to tell the story after visiting Ishiwata’s program. She contacted Kyle Rasmussen and Brandon Wooldridge of Blue Shoe Media to create the film, shown to the students and their mentors for the first time in the digital dome atop the Museum of Discovery.
You could tell by the oohs and aahs, that the kids were impressed. They chuckled and cheered as their classmates appeared and told their stories with sincerity and humor. Their words were simple and moving and gave evidence of how far they had come in their mastery of English, only one of the obstacles faced by those in the process of adjusting to a new culture.
I felt fortunate to be able to share their special day with those teenagers. Chattering and smiling, they gratefully accepted a small gift and lunches to be eaten as their buses returned them to Fort Morgan—their home.
“Remember that you have friends in Fort Collins,” Hoeven told them in heartfelt words when the film ended and before they went on their way.