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A new book by students at Bridges High School proudly proclaims: “We Are America”. The subtitle, “Voices of the Nation’s Future”, takes it a further, reminding adults that they are accountable to these youth and their futures. The book features intimate portraits from 18 students and is part of a national project.

The national project was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in August 2018, when high schoolers were charged to ponder the prompt: “What does it mean to be American?” As described by the We Are America Team in a foreword to this local edition — the first from Colorado — “It was a definition we couldn’t find in our textbooks.”

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Andrea Monique Peña Harris, a teacher at Bridges, became aware of the project two years ago thanks to Halle Zander, a reporter with Aspen Public Radio. “You had the grant, and I had the students,” Peña Harris wrote in the acknowledgements.

“I was working with the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program at the time … brainstorming different classes we could offer. I came across We Are America’s website, and all I can say is it felt necessary to bring it to the Roaring Fork Valley,” explained Zander in correspondence with The Sopris Sun.

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Peña Harris saw “We Are America” as an opportunity to empower her students and also “to dispel false rumors and misunderstandings about their identities.”

This brave volume covers a range of topics from student perspectives, including sports and discipline, choosing supportive friendships, switching schools when necessary, managing depression and anxiety, suicide, overcoming personal challenges, immigration and more. Some stories are painful to witness, but they are as a whole triumphant and transformative.

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“God hadn’t done this to me, but he had done this for me,” realizes Alexus Amaya in a story about her parents’ divorce.

“Most things break your heart to fix your vision,” shares Jeovanny Sorto Solis.

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“Having self-love is something incomparable to being with someone who doesn’t value or love you the way you deserve to be loved,” explains Alondra Casas in “Put Yourself First”.

“Nobody is going to accomplish your goals for you,” advises Cameron Foster.

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Ariel Ruiz, now a proud published writer, as well as sponsored snowboarder, said it feels good to have done something so meaningful. “We Are America” is one of his most memorable experiences at the school, he said, calling it “significant change” to dissect the prompts and explore his identity. “Do not judge a book by its cover” was his takeaway.

“I’m glad the book is out; those kids deserve to be published writers,” said Zander. “They put in a lot of hard work and introspection.”

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The book is available to purchase at The Launchpad and Bridges High School and proceeds will fund a second edition with a new array of voices.

What’s more? Thanks to the collaboration with Zander and the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program, an audio version of the project is available at www.bit.ly/AZYEPBridges 

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“Those kids just blew my mind in how well they were able to articulate their experiences and talk with so much conviction about who they were and what they wanted to do after graduation,” reflected Zander.

Learn more about the national project at www.weareamericaproject.com, where these stories reside online among hundreds of others from across the nation.

Tags: #"We Are America" #Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program #Bridges High School #Halle Zander
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