¡Si, se puede!

Photo by Brian Yoder Schlabach ’07

At the age of 12, Edgar Saucedo-Davila ’11 hated school. Today, he is the first person to graduate from both a Center for Intercultural Teaching and Learning undergraduate cohort and the Master of Arts in Intercultural Leadership program at Goshen College. This story originally appeared in the spring/summer 2015 issue of The Bulletin.

When Edgar Saucedo-Davila’s family moved from Mexico to Manchester, Indiana, in 2001, he spoke zero English.

Edgar’s new school did not offer programs for English language learners, and for three long months he felt mute and stupid in class. Miserable, he cried most days and regularly pretended to be sick to get out of school. This went on for weeks until Edgar’s dad met with the principal to arrange a specialized schedule for him. For the rest of the year, Edgar attended three daily tutoring sessions with high school students as well as adult English classes at a local church. By spring, he was communicating in class and his grades were improving.

“From November to May that year, I learned so much English that my teachers would say, ‘You are a totally different student!’” said Edgar. “After my bad experience, I didn’t want anyone to feel the way I felt and decided that I wanted to teach English as a new language.”

Edgar returned to Mexico for two years but came back for his junior and senior years at Goshen High School. This time around, his school offered a program for English Learners (EL) and he worked hard to get into honors classes. Edgar made an effort to speak English at school because he knew he wanted to become an EL teacher someday. Some of his friends called him a “white wannabe” and “coconut,” but Edgar was determined to meet his goal.

In the midst of the economic recession, his parents’ inconsistent hours at a local RV manufacturer meant their budget was very tight. As graduation drew near, Edgar debated his options: go to college in Mexico or work for a year to save up for school in the United States.

Then a teacher’s aide at the high school, Heli Chambi ’06, gave Edgar some information that would alter the course of his life. He explained that Goshen College had received a large grant to establish the Center for Intercultural Teaching and Learning (CITL) to support minority students like him. The new center would provide generous scholarships, leadership training and support services to help incoming Latino students transition to college life. After talking it over with his family, Edgar decided to enroll that fall and study Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

His proudest moment 

During his first semester in the CITL program, Edgar and his cohort were asked by program directors to participate in a variety of activities designed to help them explore their identities. Edgar, who lived at home and mostly kept to himself that year, struggled to make peace with his conflicting cultural identities and find a sense of belonging.

“There was so much pressure on me to figure out where I belong,” said Edgar. “I felt that I don’t belong [in Mexico], but I don’t belong [in the U.S.] either. Either way, I’m an outsider.”

In their second and third years, the CITL students were challenged to think about their roles on campus and in the wider Goshen community. As a sophomore, Edgar joined the Latino Student Union (LSU) and began to get more involved on campus. Each week he visited Goshen High School to teach Latino juniors and seniors how to apply to college, prepare for standardized tests and fill out financial aid forms. At the local Boys and Girls Club, he worked with struggling readers on their language skills.

Edgar also expanded his horizons by taking classes off campus, including a May term course in Texas that opened his eyes to the plight of undocumented immigrants in U.S. detention camps.

By his senior year, Edgar was president of LSU and an active participant in the International Student Club and Latino Health Coalition. His family joked that he was becoming a “politician” because he knew so many people on campus and in town. Edgar attributed his high level of community involvement to the leadership training he received from his mentors in CITL.

“If not for their support of my leadership skills, I would probably still be that shy kid from freshman year,” he said.

But Edgar’s proudest moment came when he walked across the college’s graduation stage in 2011, a milestone his family had worked his whole life to help him achieve.

“It was a really proud moment for my parents to see their only son graduate from college, because that’s the reason they came to the States – to get me an education,” said Edgar.

Edgar was offered a job that fall as an English Learners (EL) teacher at Goshen Middle School, where he had completed a semester of student teaching the year before. He felt grateful for the opportunity to help students who deal with the same struggles he faced as a new U.S. immigrant.

“Sadly, a lot of our parents only have a 4th or 5th grade education,” Edgar said of his EL students. “I want my students to see it is possible to get an education and make it to the top.”

Becoming an intercultural leader 

Edgar had been teaching at Goshen Middle School for several years when Rebecca Hernandez, his mentor and former CITL director, approached him about enrolling in the college’s new Master of Arts in Intercultural Leadership (MAIL) program.

She explained that his alma mater was starting an 18-month leadership program with three six-day residencies on campus. The rest of the courses would be completed online in 7-week periods, culminating with a capstone project designed to address a real-world problem.

“She kept saying ‘you’d be perfect for this!’” Edgar recalled. “I knew I was interested in different cultures but didn’t feel comfortable with the leadership part. I don’t want to be seen as someone who is superior to others.”

Still, he liked that the degree was connected to his work as an EL teacher and saw how the capstone could benefit the students and teachers at his school. He decided to join the first MAIL cohort in the summer 2013.

During the first week of residency, Edgar and his classmates were asked to reflect on their personal communication styles, strengths and weaknesses. Over the next 18 months, Edgar’s courses challenged him to re-imagine his leadership roles at Goshen Middle School and in the community.

For this master’s thesis and capstone, Edgar researched and developed resources to help Goshen Middle School teachers assist EL students to achieve academic success. After interviewing his coworkers and collecting data, he wrote and presented a proposal to his principal, Lori Shreiner ’92, outlining ways the school could better support teachers and EL kids. His recommendations included tips for modifying tests, increased cultural awareness training and opportunities for teachers to learn Spanish.

“I love teaching people about my culture because it makes me feel more connected to my culture, more proud of my culture,” Edgar said. “I feel like I can be that bridge between the EL kids and the rest of the school and community.”

-By Ariel Ropp ’13