Andres Pinedo / Coachella Uninc.
Thermal, Calif. — For years, students at Desert Mirage High School have been organizing walkouts in response to issues ranging from immigration reform to administrative transparency. While the walkouts have led to some change at the school and in the community, many student activists have taken their leadership to college and career opportunities outside the east valley.
But that pattern is beginning to change, thanks to a number of local high schoolers who say they want to use their college degrees to help improve the community.
Adonis Galarza is a recent graduate of Desert Mirage High School. Now a freshman at California State University at San Bernardino, he says the student organizing he was involved in at Desert Mirage inspired him to become a teacher and return to his high school after graduation.
Adonis says he wants to engage students who feel disconnected from school, and notes that organizing is a key tool to doing just that. It works like a chain reaction, he explains, with students who feel marginalized being drawn into organizing , followed by their parents and then reaching the wider community.
His own experience fighting for more transparency at Desert Mirage demonstrated how community members can come together to try and find solutions to challenges. He credits the experience as the motivating factor for his desire to return and help his community.
Like Adonis, recent Desert Mirage graduate Nathalia Montes says she wants to come back to the east valley after she graduates from the University of California, Riverside. She says organizing instilled a sense of community pride in her that is often lacking in low-income communities like the eastern Coachella Valley.
That pride, she adds, can help lay the foundation for positive social change, economic growth and community development. And by challenging the status quo, student activists play a central role in jump starting the process.
Neftali Galarza is now in his final year at UC Riverside. A Desert Mirage graduate, he has been heavily involved in activism both in high school and throughout his college years.
Neftali says he often tells younger students that there is more to college than working toward a good job with good pay. In fact, Neftali believes that making a positive change in the community is the most important thing a student can do with their higher education.
Neftali has fought for such issues as affordable college tuition and a higher minimum wage, things he says will directly benefit his community and many like it. After he graduates, he plans to go back to the east valley to create a space in Thermal or Oasis where students can come together to do research, network and organize around the issues impacting their communities.