Extraordinary Upstander: Jennifer Gaxiola | Not in Our Town

Extraordinary Upstander: Jennifer Gaxiola

Grade Level: 
Middle School (6-8)
High School (9-12)


Although unable to speak, read or write in English when she came to the United States in 2005, Jennifer Gaxiola's innate sense of self-worth compelled her to succeed.  

Born in Bellflower, CA in 1992, Jennifer soon moved with her family to Mexico, then returned to California when she was nine years old. When she was 17, in Fresno in 2007, she began volunteering at the Center for Multicultural Cooperation. She became the Executive Youth Producer, and a voting Board Member, which greatly influenced her life. Jennifer became an All-Star for the Fresno Youth Empowerment Studio (FresYES), President of the Fresno Youth Service Council, and a Youth Service California CATALYST Ambassador.

The CATALYST Ambassadors, composed of  high-school students from Eureka to Los Angeles, engage in service projects (toy and blood drives, community cleanups, etc.). However, Jennifer's true passion is filmmaking. An accomplished documentary filmmaker, her quest for knowledge of California's Latino community has led her to chronicle their roots and history through films that have highlighted Cesar Chavez and the lives of war veterans.

This lesson addresses the following SEL strategies. You can have students look for these issues and examine them in themselves.

  • Self-awareness: Jennifer Gaxiola transformed the difficulties of immigration into an opportunity to learn more about her heritage and improve on her leadership skills.
  • Self-management: Jennifer Gaxiola set herself the goal of learning English and became an accomplished and fluent speaker, reader and writer of English.
  • Social awareness: Jennifer and her community of activists used video to connect at least 400 students in a state-wide web dialogue about the dropout crisis. They also spread their message of empowerment and addressed what the core issues were.
  • Relationship skills: Jennifer Gaxiola connected with mentors for guidance and support.
  • Responsible decision-making: Jennifer decided to tackle an issue she was passionate about.

1.  Prior to showing the video, briefly explain the primary themes of the video. Use some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):

  • Have you ever seen or personally experienced teasing about language and immigration?
  • What is multiculturalism? Do you think your school is multicultural?
  • What do you think it would be like to relocate to a new school next year? What would be good about it? What would be difficult and problematic?

2.  After watching the video, engage students in a dialogue about the film using some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt.):

  • What helped Jennifer overcome the hardships of being a new immigrant?
  • How can we help students from other countries feel more welcome in their new environments?
  • What does it mean to empower people? Use examples from the film.
  • How is media an effective tool for social change?

Extension Activities

1. Have the students research immigration. Have them interview someone who has immigrated to help them understand what’s involved in the process of changing countries. For students who are immigrants, have them write about their own experiences and feelings. Then have students write in response to the following prompts:

  • “If I just immigrated to this country I would feel…”  “When I immigrated to this country I felt….”
  • “As a new immigrant I would want…” “As a new immigrant, I wanted….”
  • “As a new immigrant I would have to think about….” “As a new immigrant, I thought about….”

2. Have students look into their own heritage. This should involve informal (talking to their parents and relatives) and formal research (books, websites). Let them create a diagram of their origins integrating their research. This is an open-ended exercise where students can interpret ‘diagram’ in any way they think will best represent their heritage.

3. Have students select one of the following Cesar Chavez quotes from the video:

  • “Once social change begins it cannot be reversed”
  • “You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride”
  • “You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore”
  • “We have seen the future and the future is ours”

Write a 1000 word paper on one or more of these quotes. Ask them to reflect on the following: “Do you agree or disagree? How do we let people oppress us? How do we stop others from oppressing us?”

4. Watch the NIOS film New Immigrants Share their Stories. Have the students do a quick-write on the following questions:

  1. Think of a time that you were new to a country, school, or community. Who made you feel welcome? What did they do?
  2. Now think of a time that a new young person moved into your school or community. What did you do to make that person feel welcome?
  3. What are three good ways to welcome others into our school or community?



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