Education

After school walk-outs, now what? Teens move forward post-election

Student body president Cristal Trujillo helped to organize an event to help students at Esteban Torres High School express themselves and de-stress after the election.
Student body president Cristal Trujillo helped to organize an event to help students at Esteban Torres High School express themselves and de-stress after the election.
Priska Neely/KPCC
Student body president Cristal Trujillo helped to organize an event to help students at Esteban Torres High School express themselves and de-stress after the election.
At this station, students created drawings that exemplified strength and empowerment.
Priska Neely/KPCC
Student body president Cristal Trujillo helped to organize an event to help students at Esteban Torres High School express themselves and de-stress after the election.
At one station at the event, students could make their own stress balls, but putting flour into balloons.
Priska Neely


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On the day after the election, many students at Esteban Torres High School were distraught. 

"It was a crazy, because that day there were a lot of students in the hallway crying," said student body president Cristal Trujillo. "It was just a really upsetting day for everyone."

The student body is almost completely Latino and the president-elect's statements on undocumented immigrants brought a wave of anxiety into the hallways of the school.

Days later, students at the school were among the hundreds of high schoolers who walked out of class with the goal of unifying the community in East L.A. and securing protections and support for undocumented students.

"It wasn’t an anti-Trump walk out," said junior Andrew Guedea. "They just wanted to make it known that their presence is here and take action in their community for whatever is to come."

Since the walkout, Guedea and other students at Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology (HAAT) – one of the five academies on the Torres High campus – have been searching for more ways to spread that message to the community. 

The anxieties the HAAT students are feeling aren't uncommon – the Los Angeles Unified School District this week launched a hotline "to provide [students and families] with emotional support, enrollment and attendance information and referrals to outside resources" to help with election-related worries.

But students at the school wanted to do more. 

A handful of HAAT students organized an after-school event called Voice Fest, a space for self-expression and relaxation. About 130 students showed up Monday night, rotating between stations poetry writing, drawing, printmaking and even guided meditation.  

Lee Ann Casas and her twin sister create their own stencils for a printmaking activity.
Lee Ann Casas and her twin sister create their own stencils for a printmaking activity.
Priska Neely/KPCC

"They needed an outlet for their voice and they needed to see that there’s a way forward after these election results, which for many students were incredibly disappointing and somewhat frightening," said HAAT principal Deborah Lowe, who was eager to support the event. 

She said she also wanted to "provide real information for them about the resources that exist in our community for them and for their families."

To that end, a representative from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) gave a presentation with tips on how to interact with law enforcement and provided resources for students and their families. 

Student organizers also led a game during the event. They read statements and asked students to move to one side of the auditorium if they agreed, and to the other if they disagreed. 

"I am fearful for the people in my community," junior Gaby Lazo read as nearly all of her classmates shuffled to the agree side of the room.

During one activity, students move to one side of the auditorium if they fear for the people in their community and to the other if they do not. Only a few students were not fearful.
During one activity, students move to one side of the auditorium if they fear for the people in their community and to the other if they do not. Only a few students were not fearful.
Priska Neely/KPCC

"I don't know what Donald Trump might do, and stuff like that, so if he actually deports a lot of people, it's gonna be a big impact in our community," senior Sarah Ruiz shared with the group.

Lee Ann Casas was one of only a handful of students who stood on the disagree side of the auditorium.

"I’m not fearful because I know that we can get through this," said Casas as a burst of applause built up from her classmates. "We’re, like, the generation that can make our voices heard."