Robinson Teens Share "My America" Stories

Author: Allison Nanni

Robinson Teens

Tiana Mudzimurema, Zion Williams, Cassia Lebron-Williams, and Margaret Gathesha visit the National Constituion Center in Philadelphia, PA.

By Allison Nanni for Public Affairs at the University of Notre Dame

During a recent reception to thank parent and community sponsors, “My America” participants from the University of Notre Dame’s Robinson Community Learning Center presented details and impressions of their first excursion to Philadelphia.

Many of the reception guests included parents and volunteers already familiar with RCLC’s work. However, local business owners Linda and Bernie Sherck were first-time guests. After learning from a customer and friend about the center’s unique youth engagement strategies, Junk Evolution owner, Linda Sherck says, “I knew we wanted to support a place that modeled personal growth and the possibility that hard work brings.”

Velshonna Luckey, youth development program director at the Robinson Community Learning Center, designed the My America program to inspire local youth to become active participants in their own lives. Luckey says, “We connect the experiences of our country’s historic leaders with their own life stories. The students learn that hard work can produce success. Those who founded our country did it on hard work.”

Students ages 13 to 18 qualified for the three-day bus trip through weekly participation in research and discussion sessions, school attendance and academic success. Students had the opportunity to tour the University of Pennsylvania, Independence Hall, Valley Forge and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The youngest traveler, Kasey Bridges, admits she was nervous about the long bus ride. “I had traveled some before, but never in a group. I got to know everyone on the trip in a new way. They are now like family.”

Kasey and her peers spent weeks discussing the origins of the bill of rights in RCLC meeting rooms in South Bend. The LaSalle Academy seventh-grader says the ideas and debates first became “real” for her at the National Constitution Center. Kasey says, “It was fun to see how excited [the adults] were at the National Constitution Center, too. It was almost like our teacher, Ms. Susan, had 20 cups of coffee – and she doesn’t even drink coffee!”

Susan Esquivel, My America teacher and former AmeriCorps volunteer, says, “Being at the world’s only museum dedicated to the United States Constitution with my students was one of the best days of my life.” Part of the program curriculum includes student-led projects on particular constitutional amendments.  Esquivel says, “The presentations became the basis for heated classroom discussions. Although the participants didn’t always agree with each other, their knowledge and ability when debating the bill of rights not only surprised the museum staff, but also the students themselves.”

“The children planned all of the reception details,” says Luckey. “It’s important to take the time to share our joy with the adults who helped us get to Philly. Next stop – Washington, D.C.”