My Solar Movement

By Armando Godoy-Velasquez

My hometown of Pico Rivera is located on the southeast side of Los Angeles where solar panels are not very popular. Many residents seem reluctant to accept solar panels, mostly because they have misconceptions about solar modules causing more damage versus saving money while protecting the environment. My efforts in spreading solar awareness lead me to many road blocks and hectic arguments because I was not well-informed on the topic. I decided that I could better explain to those who oppose it how much more productive solar panels are as a method of energy production if I learned more about it.

Monday through Thursday for five continuous weeks, I traveled by bus for an hour and a half to attend the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) Academy at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. I participated in the Environmental and Building Sciences field where I took two courses on solar electricity. I learned the fundamentals of how solar modules worked and gained hands-on experience. Assembling a charging station for phones gave me a sense of innovativeness, even though I had really not created something new. With a few guest speakers from Solar City, the biggest solar company in the U.S, I found a new sense of responsibility to spread the knowledge I had gained into my community.

Every Tuesday in the summer after my STEAM Academy courses, I rushed over to El Rancho High School by bus to attend G1DPR’s Be A Leader Senior Boot Camp meetings. Alma Renteria, the Be A Leader project manager at the time, was aware of my involvement in the STEAM Academy. While covering essay topics at a meeting, Alma encouraged me to create a proposal for Jacki Cisneros for a sponsorship to bring the “green initiative” to Pico Rivera. My proposal highlighted how the lack of exposure to solar energy within our community inspired me to create an after school program for middle school students in Pico Rivera to give them the same experience I had in the STEAM Academy. With the help of Jacki Cisneros from Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, I was able start a series of monthly solar workshops at the STEAM Academy at Burke Middle School. I realized that I could “kill 2 birds with one stone” by spreading solar awareness as I had originally planned, while also planting seeds in our future generation of movers and shakers. Using all the material I learned during my own time at the STEAM Academy, I created small, unit-based projects that would provide students exposure to solar energy. I, along with my LA Trade Tech professor, show students in the program how to wire panels together, connect them to appliances and power other items using solar energy.

While I know there is still a long way to go, being able to spark conversations about solar energy and its importance within my community feels like a start to something exciting. Our communities deserve the best, and I want to ensure that as a whole, we continue to create awareness about the damages of pollution and the importance behind solar energy.

Armando’s Solar Workshops take place once a month at the STEAM Academy at Burke Middle School, from 4 p.m to 6 p.m. Class is limited to 20 students on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, contact or Mr. Parra in room 4.



Pathway to College Starts in Kindergarten

As a child, reading topped my mom’s list of priorities. Every evening she would read to me and if she was away, my grandparents or my aunt would step in to make sure that this important part of my evening routine was filled. When I turned 8 or 9 years old, we started taking turns reading to each other. During dinner or on car rides home, my mom would ask me what I thought about a character or what she missed in the last chapter. I realize now that as an educator it was her sneaky way of making sure I was doing my required 30 minutes of daily reading and, more importantly, that I was comprehending what I was reading. It was a tradition I cherished and practice with my own children.

The week of October 24th marks our 5th Kindergarten Book Giveaway, an annual event that was inspired by my mom, who through her 40 years of work in education, has seen the important benefits of children who were read to at an early age. This year we’re giving approximately 800 Pico Rivera kindergarten students a bag each filled with 10 books. At each school assembly, we empower the students to carve out a well-lit space in their home and build their very own literacy library. We also encourage parents to read with their child and stress the impact it makes in their child’s academic future and parent-child bond.

But this event has a more significant meaning that extends beyond receiving books. It gives us an opportunity to highlight how important it is for children to maintain, and hopefully surpass, their required reading level by third grade. This milestone is a huge benchmark as research shows that students who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. And if poverty is a factor, then studies show a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer.*

While Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera has established successful college access programs at the high school level, we realize the importance reading comprehension is at every grade-school level. As such, our vision extends beyond the immediate smile of a 6-year-old student receiving a bag full of new books today, to a young adult receiving his or her college diploma in the future.

*American Educational Research Association, 2011

#BetterMakeRoom and #reachhigher: A Q&A with Justin Uribe

“If I can have this opportunity to attend college coming from a community where the average percentage of households with a Bachelor’s Degree is 11%, anyone can.” Those are the words of Justin Uribe, an El Rancho High School graduate and freshman at UC Berkeley. Earlier this month, his message was broadcast all over social media as part of the Better Make Room college awareness campaign launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2015 in partnership with her Reach Higher college access initiative. We caught up with Justin during his midterms week and asked a few questions about his journey from Pico Rivera to Berkeley.

G1DPR:   In your Better Make Room “Twitter Takeover” you mentioned “I pushed through a multitude of obstacles using every opportunity afforded to me and connected with staff who have really pushed me to do well.” Describe to us the opportunities and connections that helped you get to where you are today.

Justin: Coming from a Latino background, it’s not such a prevalent thing to have generations of college graduates before me. My brother and I are the first to go to college, and we did so without the influence that’s apparent in more affluent schools where higher education is a priority. Friends who attended those affluent schools come from families where almost everyone has a college degree. In my family, I’m breaking barriers for being one of the first to go to college, and it was a challenge to get here.

Fortunately, programs through Generation 1st Degree, like Be A Leader and College Blue Print built me up and pushed me to go to college. It was my junior year in high school when I found out about these programs. Attending summer sessions, college tours and meetings helped me build my “how to” for going to college. That’s when I focused on college applications and the logistics of financial applications, and Be A Leader was on top of it…always reminding us of deadlines.

G1DPR: We asked Better Make Room to share with us some of the social media insights and your story reached more than 700 people on Facebook, 500 on Instagram and had more than 40,000 impressions on Twitter. What do you think about that?

Justin: Wow, really humbling that people saw and read it! I appreciate it all because I didn’t think I would get this far. When I saw a retweet from the U.S. Department of Education and my face was on their news feed I thought, “Whoa!”

G1DPR Fill in the blanks: “If it weren’t for _____ I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Justin: My teachers, especially my family and all of the opportunities provided to me over the years… and G1DPR.

G1DPR: If you were to host a lecture back at ERHS about your pathway through high school to college, what words of wisdom would you share with your fellow DONS?

Justin: I would say I was in the same seat. I had the same teachers, the same classes and the same difficulties and environment they are growing up in. Where I am right now, it’s a great place and you can totally reach where I am. But I want you to surpass me. I mean, it’s a great place where I am, but aim for more. Be persistent and don’t take no for an answer.