Mariposa program helps Latina elementary school students thrive

Maegan Nelson

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As local elementary school students settle into routines for the new school year, programs are beginning to look forward to integrating themselves into these student’s lives. One program, Mariposa, seeks to improve the lives of young Latina women in the Walla Walla community.

Anne-Marie Schwerin, agency director for the YWCA’s Mariposa program, has been working diligently to expand and perfect the Mariposa program in Walla Walla public schools.

“The Walla Walla community has a lot of girls who are new to the country, a lot of girls who are the first in their family to go to school in the U.S.,” said Schwerin. “There’s a lot of diversity within the Latino community, but girls are still living in two cultures. So we meet for a fifth -grade girls’ night where we celebrate that! We work to identify and bridge [those gaps between cultures] by working on leadership skills, decision-making skills … and to build a peer group that the girls can count on.”

The Mariposa program works to accomplish all of this by meeting once a week for a few hours with girls of all ages and teaching a lesson usually involving how to improve the students’ self-esteem.

“Research indicates Latinas 18 and under have lots of risk factors in their lives … having families early, dropping out of school, drugs and alcohol … [and four years ago] the New York Times [found that] Latina girls replaced young black men with the highest suicide rate,” said Schwerin.

The Mariposa program started working with the Walla Walla Farm Labor Homes in 1997, when it recognized the small number of minority members involved in such programs. That was when outreach programs were started and bilingual people were hired to help communicate with the community. This communal outreach extended to the schools, including Pioneer Middle School.

“The Mariposa program has come and gone through the years and [been] sponsored by the YWCA … some years we would have absolutely fantastic groups. [They] always would pick a day and then the girls would come after school … they have really good Mariposa workbooks, and they have a curriculum that the leaders were trained to follow,” said Judith Anderson, counselor at Pioneer Middle School.

The program covered everything from hygiene to accountability.

“They would [also] have social outings outside of school … [for example] take fifth-grade girls bowling … When the leader was really good, we had great changes in students … they were connected to another positive adult. Probably five years ago, there was a really excellent [leader]––I think she was a Whitman student––and she brought in a speaker … this lady happened to be a Hispanic woman who had done really well in her life, and she was really amazing,” said Anderson.

In the past, Whitman students have become part of the program, either by acting as presenters within the classroom or assistants to Schwerin.

“Mariposa is a program primarily for Hispanic girls in fifth grade that is currently taught at four different elementary schools. It is a chance for them to learn life skills, in a fun way, that they might not learn in the classroom. Some of the topics covered are [friendship], decision-making, drug and alcohol prevention, and communication,” said junior Cristela Delgado-Daniel, who volunteers with the program.

Delgado-Daniel works closely with Schwerin and had positive things to say about her work for the program.

“She has been a great mentor and a wonderful leader for the community. She truly cares about the well-being of the girls and goes to great lengths to make sure that we as directors have all the necessary tools to run the program,” she said.

Delgado-Daniel hopes to increase the program’s presence in the community this year and encourage more of her peers to volunteer.

“Personally, goal-wise, I would love for the program to gain more awareness and would especially like to work out a way to get more Whitman student involvement,” said Delgado-Daniel.

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