Camelot Excel Academy of Southwest Student Spends Two Unforgettable Weeks in Spain after Winning Essay Contest
David Torres, a senior at Camelot Education’s Excel Academy of Southwest, says he is even more focused on a future career as a photographer and video producer after spending part of the summer on a cultural immersion trip to Spain where he focused his time capturing and recording the Spanish culture.
He earned this opportunity by writing a winning essay as part of a contest hosted by one of Camelot Education’s community partners, My Block, My Hood, My City. David was one of only two Chicago Public Schools students who had the privilege of going on the trip. (Mundo Lingua, an organization that teaches foreign languages online, generously paid for the travel.)
“David’s essay stood out because he’s a very descriptive writer, and he wrote about his first exploration with our organization and how it exposed him to a different type of food and culture in Chicago,” said Ernesto Gonzalez, a community organizer with My Block, My Hood, My City, who accompanied David on the trip. “His family came to the US from Mexico, and he felt that a trip would help him learn more about himself.”
David and Mr. Gonzalez lived with a host family in Cadiz in southern Spain, totally immersed in the culture, food, and life of Spaniards. They explored the region, learned about the city’s history, went to the beach, and walked around town. Since both are fluent Spanish speakers, they felt very comfortable in a foreign setting.
“Their Spanish is very different from how I learned the language. For example, their word for cake is different than in Mexico where my family comes from,” David said. “The trip presented a great opportunity to take incredible pictures. This was an amazing experience, and I am so grateful to My Block, My Hood, My City for making it possible. I was shocked when I got the news that I’d be going. The farthest from Chicago I’d been is Ohio, and I had never been on a plane.”
David also said the culture, the schools, and the clothes are literally a world apart from his Chicago neighborhood, but the biggest revelation for David was the absence of sirens. He didn’t see or hear any police cars or ambulances during his stay.
“We were in a place where we heard no sirens at all,” Gonzalez said. “The peace and tranquility, even as we walked around at night, put in my mind that maybe the life I lead in my part of Chicago isn’t the only kind of life I can have.”
Camelot’s relationship with My Block, My Hood, My City, now in its third year, is an example of the kind of community partnerships the company forms to present students with different perspectives and opportunities beyond the classroom.
“It’s part of the holistic approach we take, addressing our students’ needs socially, emotionally, physically, and mentally,” said Colby Chapman, who last year served as director of student services at Excel Academy of Southwest, where she counseled David. This year she transferred to another Camelot Excel Academy in Chicago – Excel Academy of Roseland. “My Block, My Hood, My City supports our approach. They allow students to visualize a different perspective of themselves. We constantly look at the organization as an amazing community partner. Who better to mentor or guide you than someone who looks like you, knows where you come from, and has similar family traditions? David and Mr. Gonzalez are both first-generation Americans whose families emigrated from Mexico.”
David’s plan is to work in photography and video editing once he graduates from high school. He took lots of pictures and edited videos on his trip, just as he does at school. He films various school activities from sports to student government events.
“He has high aspirations to do a lot of things with media,” Chapman said. “He takes initiative in trying to get to the next level and is a very determined young man.”
“Excel is a very good school. I like what they stand for,” David said. “My mom felt it was the best fit for me – to keep me out of neighborhood trouble and also to graduate sooner.”
But perhaps the most lasting memory he will have from high school is the opportunity it afforded him to meet new people and forge lasting friendships.
“It was an amazing experience, and I want to go back. I made friends over there that I know I’m going to have for a lifetime.”
My Block, My Hood, My City raises money through the donations of supporters. Anyone wishing to donate can go to www.formyblock.org.