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ALC students attend MAAP STARS annual Fall Leadership Conference

WORTHINGTON -- Five students from the Worthington Area Learning Center attended the MAAP STARS annual Fall Leadership Conference Nov. 9-10 in Little Falls.

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Students attending the Fall MAAP STARS Conference were (from left) Kevin Velasco, Thalia Gonzalez, Anahi Rodriguez, Michelle Ramirez, Anne Raetz (advisor) and Saul Reynaga (front).

WORTHINGTON -- Five students from the Worthington Area Learning Center attended the MAAP STARS annual Fall Leadership Conference Nov. 9-10 in Little Falls.

  This was the fourth year that ALC students attended the annual conference, which is organized by the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) Success, Teamwork, Achievement, Recognition and Self-esteem (STARS). Students chosen were seniors  Kevin Velasco, Saul Reynaga, Anahi Rodriguez, Michelle Ramirez, and Thalia Gonzalez.

  Rodriguez was the first student in the ALC program to be chosen as a state MAAP STARS officer.

  The MAAP STARS goal is to  lead, promote and support innovative learning experiences for all Minnesota students. MAAP members include all alternative schools in Minnesota, charter schools, arts academies and ALC programs, among others.

  Anne Raetz, ALC English teacher and MAAP STARS advisor, explained that students need to meet certain requirements in order to attend to the conference. They need to have a minimum of absences, be passing all their classes and demonstrate good behavior.

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  Students listened to several speakers and participated in workshops that challenged them to go out of their comfort zones.

  Raetz said she encourages her students to attend to the conference because it helps them to be more accepting of themselves and recognize that their differences make them unique. In addition, she said the event gives them a space to share their personal struggles with their peers.

  “In my experience, students at the ALC strive to be seen as ‘normal,’ whatever normal is,” Raetz said. “They want to be seen in the community as no different than anybody else, which everybody is different in a certain way, but this conference shows that your differences are what make you awesome and you shouldn't try to erase them.”

  Ramirez said the conferencewas a fun and eye-opening experience because she was able to listen to other people's stories and open up herself, too. She added that it helped her to be more accepting of both herself and others, and said she found acceptance and support from her peers as well as everybody else at the conference.

  “It was so liberating,” Ramirez said. “You just feel this enormous weight come off your shoulders, and it just felt that everybody was helping you carry that weight.”

  “I think my favorite part of the conference is the honesty that you get from everyone who is there,” Raetz added. “Every school, every advisor, every student is very honest. They don't put on a front … what you see is what you get.”

  Reynaga said he was able to open his mind about the struggles of other people and realized that he wants to help others to overcome those struggles. Listening to the speakers and through the workshops, he found motivation to put more effort in his classes.

  “A lot of kids came with their own stories and it showed me that everybody has gone through something at some point,” Reynaga said. “I realized that if I want to help somebody, I first have to open myself.”

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  Rodriguez said the conference was a positive experience for her not just because she was named a state officer, but she also learned to be more accepting of her peers. She added that she was very surprised to be named as a state officer.

  “I didn't want to get my hopes up because I didn't want to be let down, but it was a very good day for me,” Rodriguez said.

  She gave a speech in which she shared her background and how she wants to help her classmates improve academically and personally. In addition, she wants to change how ALC students are seen in her community.

  “I had to give a speech in front of everyone in the conference, so that was a little nerve-racking because I don't like to talk in front of people, but I’m glad I did,” Rodriguez said.

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Rodriguez said she wouldn't have been able to be a state officer without the support and help of her friends from the MAAP STARS class.

  “It felt good having people helping me with situations that I couldn’t deal with  on my own,” Rodriguez said. “I felt cared for and loved.”

  Raetz said the conference is also a place for students to build stronger relationships with their classmates. The event also helped her develop a better rapport with her students.  

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“I see them building relationships with each other that are very difficult to build in other places,” Raetz said. “I am also able to build my own relationships with students because some of those  questions I cannot ask as a teacher ... but they just get revealed at the conference, and I think students learn a little bit more about me as a person.”

  Raetz said she is very proud of the improvements her students have made, and hopes the community can realize the huge potential that ALC students have.

  “If these five students can offer greatness, the rest of our students can offer an immeasurable success,” she said. “We as a community need to open our eyes and be willing to see it.”

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