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FEB. 25, 2015

Cornerstone Day with Paul Cuadros

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Polly Averette, French Teacher

OA students recently had the honor of Skyping with author and Professor Paul Cuadros during Cornerstone Friday. Cuadros, an award-winning investigative reporter who teaches journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, introduced himself to students and expounded on his book, A Home on the Field, to help them explore the theme “Communities in Transition.”

Paul Cuadros is an outstanding mentor for our students as they dig more deeply into the community of Semester 40 and consider their return home in May. They are making connections and growing into their community here as well as considering their transition back to their home communities. As they experience the mixture of emotions that accompany every great adventure, Cuadros hopes to help them draw connections between their experiences at OA and inspire them to explore how best to transfer the skills, lessons, and spirit of community they are gaining here to carry through their lives.

An acclaimed writer of articles in publications that include Time Magazine and Salon.com, Cuadros tells personal and heart-rending stories that vividly depict the experiences of the Latino community in the United States. In 1999 he received a fellowship and began to study rural southern communities impacted by the arrival of large numbers of immigrant laborers. His work took him to Silas City, NC to research the poultry processing industry. Latino parents poured into the economically depressed southern town and were willing to work in the grueling and dangerous plants because they were desperately seeking a better life, a healthier environment and a way to save their children from polluted, violent and drug and gang invested inner cities.

Cuadros’ own family had emigrated from Peru. He immediately understood the “outsider” feelings that he witnessed in the young Latino men. And he feared for the future of the many undocumented young people who remembered being in no other country other than the US but who lived in constant fear of deportation and could only dream of sharing the American experience.

Believing that the skills of character and strength learned in games can be applied to real life Cuadros faced many obstacles but eventually started a soccer program at Silas City High School. He then coached the Latino team to major victories. The team, Los Jets, even won state championships.

Los Jets became core to the small southern town’s transition away from defeat to a greater sense of community pride and acceptance of diversity. Cuadros tells the remarkable story of struggle and triumph that grew out of this “Community in Transition” in his book, A Home on the Field: How One Championship Soccer Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America. The book has been made into a documentary and Cuadros has spoken for his team many times on NPR.

Our Cornerstone Friday started with no power. Students huddled around wood stoves and discussed Paul Cuadros’ book. Not a single person complained of the cold, lack of water or the darkness.In groups we discussed readings from A Home on the Field and through them learned about often overlooked American communities. When the power returned, we continued in a classroom that never warmed up. Students bundled under blankets and again, did not complain. They watched documentaries of Cuadros’ experience with Los Jets and learned more about his and others’ work with undocumented and immigrant families and young people.

After lunch students Skyped with Cuadros and offered many insightful questions and observations. He was warm and open to their inquiries. Our hope is that after this experience with paul, the students will start asking  themselves a new set of questions.

How do we gracefully transition away from community while maintaining the spirit from which we have been inspired to learn and grow?
How can we use this experience to create more connected communities across ethnic and socio-economic lines back home?
How do I transfer my Lessons from this community when I have left this place and these people?

With Spring Break coming up, we hope that the students can use the time to reflect on the communities they are part of, both at home, and at The Outdoor Academy.

Polly Averette, French Teacher