By Martha Lopez, WATG Board Member
As a former classroom teacher of 12 years, I have had the great fortune of teaching incredibly exceptional bilingual students. Jessica Ojeda-Barojas is one of those students. In December of 2019, Wisconsin State Senator Tim Carpenter (3rd District), who sponsored her for this program, announced that Jessica was accepted to participate in the Wisconsin Senate Scholar Program. This program is an elite program designed to challenge Wisconsin's best students with an advanced government curriculum that includes classroom instruction, roundtable discussion sections, and a lab component. This highly competitive program only selects 33 students.
Allow me to share who Jessica is and why her acceptance is so important. She is currently a senior in the iForward Online Public Charter School where she is on track to becoming the class of 2020 valedictorian. But, my relationship with her began years ago. I met her eleven years ago when I was her 1st and 3rd grade teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. Since she was very young, it was evident that she was a highly gifted learner, and she consistently demonstrated excellence throughout her educational career. Besides her intellectual capability, she has a strong desire for social justice issues and a passion to serve the Latino community. She offers a cultural perspective and representation that we desperately need in government. Jessica has an exceptional ability to understand logical connections that allow her to detect inconsistencies. As a result, she possesses the critical thinking skills necessary to effectively solve problems, regardless of their complexity. Jessica demonstrates the ability to solve a variety of problems in conventional and innovative ways. She has shown she can identify and ask the important questions which clarify conflicting views from either side to provide the best solutions. For example, I have seen Jessica engage in emotionally charged conversations, critically examine the issue, and consistently respond in a logical and constructive manner. She always offers an acceptable and appropriate solution, and is respectful of others’ ideas and opinions. These are all skills we expect our elected officials to possess and carry out on behalf of their constituents.
Why is her acceptance into this program so important? As of today, there are 36 Latinos in the House of Representatives (out of 435 representatives total), and four in the Senate (out of 100 senators), yet Latinos make up 17.8% of the US population. In recent years, there are more Latino politicians in congress than in prior elections. However, there is still a lack of matched representation. If we sought for perfect Latino representation, we would expect about 77 House members and 18 senators. Unfortunately, we are far from matched representation. As you can see, Jessica’s participation is important because she represents the 6% of Wisconsin’s Latino population. Thanks to the Senate Scholar Program, this opportunity creates a pathway for minority students to engage in politics and possibly help increase minority representation in the US government.
Jessica is one of the 33 exceptional young leaders that will participate in this program in 2020. Congratulations to all of the juniors and seniors that will be working with Senators, legislative staff and the University of Wisconsin faculty. The Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted applauds your accomplishments!
“The Senate Scholar Program is an intensive week-long educational program offered by the Wisconsin State Senate. Admission to the program is highly competitive and is limited to 33 academically exceptional high school juniors and seniors from around Wisconsin. Each Senate Scholar receives a hands-on, up-close view of the Legislature’s role in our democracy.” For more information, visit http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ssgt/senatescholar.
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