Student-driven effort helps with inclusive entrance signs at Mazama High School
When Omar Guzman arrived for his first day at Mazama High School, he took a photo of himself in front of the school’s new bilingual entrance signs and sent it to his mother in Mexico.
“When I noticed it, it made me feel more comfortable,” he said through Mazama vice principal Sergio Cisneros, who translated his Spanish into English. Omar understands English but after only a year in the U.S. is still learning to speak it fluently. “It’s been good to see the school make us feel more included.”
The sign – one of several now at entrances to the high school – reads “Welcome/Bienvenidos and Main Office/OficinaPrincipal. On the windows near the doors of the school’s main entrance, students also are welcomed in five languages, including three Native American languages – Modoc (skatis), Northern Paiute (kimma), English (welcome), Klamath(gelidanka), and Spanish (bienvenidos).
The welcome signs are a gift from the school’s senior class of 2023 and represent the student body’s desire to create a more inclusive environment for its diverse population. The school alsohas created additional signage in both Spanish and English to better serve their non-English speaking families and students who are learning English.
About one third of the nearly 700 students are Hispanic and the school has a large population of Native American students with more than 180 enrolled last year.
“The signs represent the diversity of students at our school, and it means a lot,” said Mazama junior Trusten Jackson. Jackson is an enrolled member of The Klamath Tribes. “All the changes we are making are a big deal to the different students we have. It’s also a big deal to the elders in Chiloquin,” he added. “Most people there still try to speak the language as much as they can.”
Omar moved to Klamath Falls from Nayarit, Mexico, in June 2022, so he could learn English, graduate from a U.S. high school and study business. His goal is to open his own landscaping company. Though he now understands English, seeing his language included on school signage makes him feel more welcome and as if he belongs.
Omar also is part of the Newcomer Program at Mazama, which provides supports to migrant students whose primary language isn’t English.
Cisneros worked with last year’s seniors to make the project happen.
“They wanted to do something to improve the climate, culture, and inclusion at the school and asked the administration if we had any ideas,” he said. “One of the things that kept coming up was as you walked into Mazama, especially with the new ring system, it didn’t feel welcoming. It felt like this fortress that’s guarded and you have to go through these layers to get in. So the students came up with an idea to change that by communicating through the languages of our all of students.”
It seems to be working.
“I feel this is a very inclusive school because of all the different groups,” Trusten said. “Mazama’s definitely student driven.”
Omar said when he first arrived at Mazama in September 2022, it was hard. The Newcomer Program was just starting. Currently, the school has five staff members who are fluent in Spanish, including an administrator, counselor, and on-track advisor. Today, as a senior, he is in classes with his peers and doing well.
“My mom is happy and proud that I am at a school that welcomes me,” Omar said as Cisneros translated. “She knows I will be successful, finish, and graduate from a school that makes me a priority.”
Cisneros is pleased with the student-driven project. The leadership of this year’s senior class has already approached him, asking what they can do to continue improving on the school’s positive climate and culture.
“Students are starting to see that Mazama is a place for all students,” he said. “The seniors want to pay it forward so it can continue to be a good place for future generations. Regardless of what you look like, what language you speak, what walk of life you’re in, you can come to Mazama, you can be successful, and you can leave being a better person and a better human.”