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Fellowship Report (2004)



Fellow: Monica Haller

Fellowship Site: El Colegio Charter School

Brief History of Organization and Programs in the Organization:

El Colegio opened in the fall of 2000 with a commitment to change the traditional high school experience and serve a diverse group of students in grades 9-12. El Colegio is a charter high school with a focus in the arts, environment, and technology, with a continual focus on Spanish/English bilingualism. Students work with advisors to develop their own curriculum consistent with Minnesota's Graduation Standards. Students achieve knowledge in all subjects through project-based learning.

Presently, the student population is about 50% Latino, however, the school serves all cultures. The school is dedicated to increasing the high school graduation rate for students of color and increasing the number of students of color who go on to college.

Organizational Profile

Full Name of Organization: El Colegio Charter School
Organizational Address: 4137 Bloomington Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Telephone number: 612.728.5728
Email address: Website:
Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff:
Director - David Greenberg
Administration – George Sand
Number of Employed Staff (full-time; part-time): About 11 Faculty Members
Number of Volunteers: Varies

Objectives of the Organization:

- Students achieve knowledge in all subjects through project-based learning.
- Increasing the high school graduation rate for students of color.
- Increasing the number of students of color who go on to college.

Community Partnerships Include: Augsburg College, Phillips Community Television, Bancroft Neighborhood Association.
Date of Information: 11/28/04
Information Supplied by: El Colegio Website, knowledge of program, and various conversations with director.

Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks undertaken by the Fellow:

Overall Task: Over the academic summer vacation of 2004, develop and complete a photography project with a small group of El Colegio students to address issue of access to higher education for undocumented youth using the Declaration of Human Rights and federal legislation called the Dream Act as source material. The participating youth choose to take an active roll in addressing this human rights issue that affects them. Use photography as a means to communicate their experiences of those issues. Then, exhibit the project at various venues around the Twin Cities.

Educational Goals:

Introduction to photography (picture making, Photoshop, digital printing)
Introduction to the Declaration of Human Rights. Intro to HR.

What is the Dream Act?

Specific Responsibilities included:

-Worked with El Colegio and El Centro de Cultura to secure remaining budget needs for project.
- Worked with participating students to develop a project time line, workshop dates, due dates, etc. over the summer months.
- Developed lesson plans for project workshops to address:

1. Human rights education.
2. Photography technical Skills
3. Dream Act. Federal legislation. US Congress.
4. Applied concepts, ideas, and experiences to visual art. (Included short writing assignments).

- Took pictures, develop, and edit photos collectively.
-Organized field trip to photographer and activist, Dick Bancroft’s studio.
Topic: The power of photography: Photography and Activism.
- As the project progressed, collaborated with El Colegio faculty to work towards fulfilling credits and graduation standard requirements with this project for the participating students. I continue to work towards this goal.
-After teaching Photoshop, doing test prints as a group, my personal responsibility was:
- Print the 22 photographs using the Minneapolis College of Art and Design printer, (inks donated by MCAD).
-Matt and frame photos (Matt board donated by Moose Horn Framing Studio).
-Wrote group artist statement collectively.
-Hung show at El Colegio Charter School collectively
-Continue to find external venues to exhibit work.
-Work with local newspapers, media.
-Continue to network and partner with other organizations, senators, etc. who advocate for similar immigration reform and to re-introducing similar legislation at next legislative session.


As you can see through the educational goals and task list above, this was a large project for students to undertake during the summer months. High expectations, a wide range of educational goals, difficult concepts to apply to visual art making, and a large time commitment were all asked of the three participating girls. The ambitiousness of the project created both its success and challenges. When observing it in hindsight, I realize the breadth of our accomplishments. I also better understand the difficulties, challenges, and frustrations of what we set out to do.

Using concepts like education as a human right and legislation as source material for photography without making the photographs purely illustrative is a very hard thing for any artist to do, especially someone who is making pictures for her first time. I also asked the students to visually describe their experience of U.S. education, and their feelings (hopes, dreams, realities) about higher education, as undocumented youth.

My challenge was this: How would I help break down such abstract concepts to questions that could be answered visually? Their challenge (one of the many, I’m sure) was to write in response to hard questions I posed, and then find a way to visually communicate their answers. This was hard work for all of us, at times frustrating. We communicated in Spanish. At times the concepts exceeded my fluid, conversational level Spanish, and at moments, all of our Spanish vocabulary. We waded through the language barriers. The journaling fell flat sometimes, but also wielded profoundly insightful, eye-opening results. My observation was that the students were often very excited to communicate those new found insights into their experiences. In the end, the students produced a rich, fantastically complex, beautiful and true body of work. The end photographs were a huge accomplishment of this work.

Attendance was my biggest challenge. I was working with students whose attendance record during the school year was often poor. This project was during summer vacation and mainly extracurricular in nature (the project wasn’t originally set up to include credits). For those reasons, the project carried little incentive and motivation. In addition, it asked for a large chunk of the students’ summer time. Transportation to school was also a hindrance for some students. The public transportation was always an option, but the bus was over an hour ride. These were the circumstances of the situation. Getting the girls to show up was hard, understandably. Getting them to show up on time was nearly impossible. I began to pick up the students in the morning and together we went to school. That helped the problem. I dealt with questions about student / instructor boundary lines.

At other moments, it appeared that some students would not follow through with the projects. I constantly worked to structure the project so that the students had ownership of it and remained engaged. At times it went smoothly, at other times I thought that the project might fail –how can you make photographs with out the photographers? In the end, the students did follow through and worked very to get there. They showed huge amount of pride and gratification in seeing the work hanging on the wall at their school. Throughout, I believed that if they saw their final work hanging on the wall, it would be a profound experience for them. Yet, I often held my breath, not quite sure if we could sustain the summer-work-pace needed to get there. This was a roller coaster, an ebb and flow of energy and motivation that we worked through together.
Now, if possible, it is important to me that they get credits that they both need and deserve for this project. I continue to work toward this goal.

The challenges I faced with this fellowship were very different than ones from international experiences in the past. Here, I was working with a small, intimate and highly collaborative way with caring, intelligent, and sometimes volatile teenager girls. They live as teenagers in the United States, concerned with similar issues as other teens here. They also live with the tension of constant deportation, or the deportation of a loved one, and many other cross-cultural issues. Our project was intimate and focused. Balancing deep collectivity and collaboration with teaching, while forming these relationships was the way I worked.
I learned a huge amount about the challenges and rewards of teaching. I leaned a lot about myself and how I worked in this both as an instructor and a collaborator. I did use the K-12 Human Rights Curriculum model, which was very helpful in structuring my lesson. I would be happy to talk about that further if it would be interesting or helpful.

Conferences Attended: Presented our project at a booth at a teachers resource fair, Weisman Teacher Open House – Chicano Visions, Chicano Now!, Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN.

Other projects/works started or completed:

Over the next year, I will continue to find exhibition venues to show the project. I have recently connected with other organizations that have also been involved in the Dream Act.

El Colegio Charter School, The Minnesota Center for Photography (MCP), and Highpoint Center for Printmaking have partnered in a project. The project involves adolescent girls from El Colegio Charter School and MCP’s upcoming exhibit Girl Culture, by Lauren Greenfield. The girls will be asked to make prints in response to the exhibit – make prints about reactions to the exhibit, but also to share their experiences as adolescent girls today. This is another opportunity for girls to use the camera to communicate their experience during this critical point of adolescence. Because of the Human Rights Fellowship photo project with El Colegio, the parties have asked me to participate in the project. Starting in January, I will be working with the girls and organizations as a visiting artist and instructor.

How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?

My motivation to do Human Rights work has really been re-enforced by this experience. As a candidate for a master of fine arts degree, I am in an area of study, the art world, which is not directly linked to human rights work. I know and trust I can mobilize it for human rights work, but presently I study art theory, criticism, and technique. The theory is interesting and often applicable to my interests, but it does not involve human rights, politics, international relations, or other related fields. When in the depths of the program requirements, it is hard to see and trust in an end were my interests in art and human rights will merge. The fellowship gave me an opportunity to merge these subjects now and test it out through the human rights photography project. The project renewed my trust in this long-term vision. It sparked new ideas, and invited me back into a social justice oriented community.

Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?

The students. They sent me on an emotional swing. At times, I was incredibly frustrated for spending a lot of energy on the project, when they didn’t appear responsive at all. On one end, I even panicked. For example, one student lost all her negatives for a few weeks before recovering them. At other times the students would be very engaged and share eye opening, brilliant writings, ideas and photographs with me. I learned huge amounts about each girl’s culture and personal experience from those times. Those were moments when she was the most special person on earth. In working with a small, intimate group, I was able to see each student open up to her own world, new knowledge, and become more confident in herself – and each student truly did in her own way.

How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/ international human rights organization?

After spending time volunteering, traveling, and studying abroad in the past, it was important for me to stick around home and work on important human rights issues here. My perspective changed from saying that there was work to do here, to actually being motivated to continue to work here. In light of our recent presidential election, now is a hugely important time, and huge challenge, to work hard here. Who is going to advocate for immigrant reform if not a collaboration of U.S. citizens and immigrants together? At the Minnesota state level I am optimistic about future legislation like the DREAM Act passing this time around in the legislative session.

As we wrote in our artist statement: “In Betsy’s words, we “believe that it is because of education that we are here. Experiments and inventions have created the progression of our society. Education isn’t always necessary to survive, but it’s very necessary to progress.” The Declaration of Human rights recognizes that humans need all rights in order to thrive. We believe in a country (the United States) that allows its cultures and people, those who create its social and economic fabric, to survive and thrive.

For now, there is a whole lot of work to do in the United States and I am committed to push this big, lumbering, awkward country to progress.

After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?

This photography project was made specifically to be seen in the local community. There are two copies of every photograph: one copy for El Colegio, and one that is part of the traveling exhibition. As stated above, we continue to exhibit at local venues. Presently, the work is hanging at the Resource Center of the Americas, Minneapolis, MN.

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