Who We Serve
Most Dorothy Stang students are immigrants, and most are parents. They come from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico. Most work full time in factories, in service work such as landscaping and house cleaning, or in entry-level positions in health care. A portion of our students are second-generation Latinos who dropped out of high school.
Our students have busy schedules. They leave full-time work to feed their children dinner, leave again to attend school from 6 to 9 pm, and finally return home at around 10 pm, every night except weekends.
Our students are risk-takers. Some crossed the Rio Grande (río Bravo) on rafts while fleeing violence. Some walked through the Sonora desert in order to provide a better life for their kids. Others have lived in Chicago for 30 years but never received a high school diploma.
Students begin the program seeking a high school diploma. But through our course called “Group”—a core class in popular education—they become a community. They develop leadership, recognize their talents, rights, gifts, and their power to change. Through other courses, they discover their own capacity to produce knowledge—and they teach each other and their teachers about their world.
After graduation, students are able to open closed doors. A high school diploma allows many to leave factory work, receive a salary increase, and/or enter trade, health care, trucker, or other training programs. A few students have gone on to two- or four-year college programs. More than an opportunity to improve their lives, graduates speak of the experience of our school as life changing in terms of their own sense of dignity, agency, and confidence.
Melania, a student who served on our Board of Directors, said:
“People like me, immigrants and older folks, would never have the opportunity to graduate from high school if a program like Dorothy Stang didn’t exist. My life has changed because of this school. Not only do I have a high school diploma, but I want to pursue a college diploma . . . .
“This program was such an opportunity because I can get a better job, but also because of the wonderful people I got to know—especially the teachers who volunteered their time and their knowledge. Because of the inspiring work of the teachers, I, as a former graduate, came back to volunteer as Secretary of the Board of Directors of the school.”
Alfredo, a student who also served on our Board of Directors, said:
“I came to the United States when I was 15 with the common material expectations—a better house, a car. Those expectations changed when I came to Dorothy Stang. I realized I was spending mental energy chasing material things that give fleeting joy, but that have a negative effect on other people around the world. I learned that if you fill your mind with the joys of being of service to people, it will keep you satisfied.
“Before going through Dorothy Stang, I was not aware of things, of how society works. The experience was really mind changing. Usually, when you hear about society issues, you think that is how society works. But when you go to Dorothy Stang you realize how everything is interconnected. You get to know that by changing your perception and approach to issues, you are capable of creating a change in society.”
Angel has a great sense of joy that was infectious to his fellow students and to his teachers. He was a community builder who organized the best parties for students and faculty. After Angel graduated he enrolled in the Illinois School of Health Careers to become a dental assistant.
Patricia, Maricela, and María Teresa all know the dangers of border crossing. They know too what a cost it is to have your aunt or grandmother give their life savings to a “coyote” to accompany you over the border. Some swam the river; some floated on inner tubes. Patricia walked ten hours in the desert. She stayed in a stable for two days without food or water. These are women who expect two things of themselves: determination, and a willingness to work hard. It’s why Dorothy Stang High School was just another border to be crossed. This time, the journey was hard work, as before, but it was joyful, too, because they pulled each other through the difficult times.