Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Linda Vista, a diverse community that includes the place where the University of San Diego campus resides, offers plenty of scenic beauty — and certainly not just where 16th century Spanish Renaissance architecture buildings appear or the view of Mission Bay from the Garden of the Sea.
It’s unquestionably on display in the Student Life Pavilion’s UC Exhibit Hall at USD through June 28.
Beauty exists in Jose Gonzalez’s photo of the cross-street signs of Langmuir Street and Gifford Way (below, left). It’s in Jacqueline Garza’s picture of daycare students (middle, right) walking hand-in-hand with teachers down Linda Vista Boulevard. It’s certainly in Yoana Gomez’s photo (top, left), capturing an orange and black butterfly spreading its wings in a park or in the close-up of a pretty yellow flower by Amy Berreto.
There’s also Noelia Gonzalez’s portrait of a homeless man standing outside of the McDonald’s restaurant. While it’s a shot she took of a man who frequents the area, it’s also a photo that draws you in. It captures the reality of life, but also, perhaps, a glimpse into her future as a problem-solver.
“I chose this picture because our community has a lot of homeless people. I wish there was something we could do for them,” she stated in an accompanying photo caption. “When I grow up, I want to be a pediatrician so that I can help the children in my community.”
The UC Exhibit Hall features photos taken by Montgomery Middle School students who participated in the second annual Montgomery Intersession Academy (MIA) program in January and April. The photographs — as well as essays (not part of the display) — centered on the students’ perceptions and descriptions of the positive assets of Linda Vista, their hometown.
The MIA program provides students with innovative learning opportunities through community engagement during two intersessions. It’s a collaborative partnership featuring the University of San Diego and its Center for Community Service-Learning (CSL), Mission Valley YMCA, Montgomery Middle School and the Bayside Community Center. A Nissan Neighbors grant provided funding for the MIA program.
An opening ceremony for the photo gallery took place Tuesday night. Students and their families were on hand to see the photos, admire the work of all participants and to celebrate the completion of this year’s program. Also in attendance were Bayside Community Center Executive Director Jorge Riquelme and Bayside staff members, USD CSL Director Chris Nayve, Montgomery administrators and teachers and community members.
Michelle Padilla, a 2013 USD graduate who worked closely with Montgomery students during the MIA sessions, was impressed.
“I’m really proud of the students and their accomplishments,” said Padilla, who earned her degree in psychology. “It makes me happy that the kids are here and that they’re so happy to see their photos displayed.”
Two students, Garza and Christian Otero, both eighth-graders, spoke during the short program. Both expressed appreciation for the chance to participate in the program and how it helped them have a renewed sense of pride for their community.
Garza, sharing her essay with the audience gathered, said taking photos and writing the essay provided her with a boost of self-confidence: “Being in the MIA program has not only made me a better writer and a better photographer, but it’s also made me a better person.”
CSL Assistant Director Ilana Lopez led the university’s participation in the MIA collaborative. School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) graduate students Leslie Kehl, Kenyon Whitman, Brian Moreland, and Padilla joined her.
The MIA project is one of many ways in which USD has partnered with Montgomery Middle School. In fact, the school nominated USD as its partner of the year at a recent San Diego Unified School District event. In addition to MIA, USD’s community service involvement includes the use of four SOLES counseling students for a program to bolster Montgomery’s thin counseling department that was affected by budget cuts; May 2013 undergraduate student Diana Velazquez developed and maintained an English as a Second Language (ESL) one-to-one tutoring program for three years; and Padilla has been heavily involved in the Montgomery Homework Club.
“I’ve lived here for three years and my involvement with Montgomery has made me feel like I’m a part of Linda Vista,” Padilla said.
While each USD-involved program and its students provide a valuable resource for the school, it’s the MIA program and the work of the young students that delivers something valuable in return for the Linda Vista community: pride and hope.
“Langmuir Street and Gifford Way is a nice part of the Linda Vista community,” Jose Gonzalez stated in his description next to his street-sign photo. “I hope one day all of our neighborhoods can be as nice.”
— Ryan T. Blystone