WENATCHEE, Wash. —
Now more than 300 students in the high school and middle school learn the soulful ballads.
Over 45 percent of students at the Wenatchee school district are Latino; 20 percent are migrant students. Nearly 60 percent of students are on free or reduced meal programs, an indicator of poverty, according to state figures.
Rivera is fully aware of those economic realities. “I think the best key to get out of poverty is to get your education. The best way to help your family is to get your education,” he said.
To reach his students, Rivera approaches his task from various angles. First, he requires a 3.0 GPA to play.
To perform with the traveling group, students must try out. Students in the top group are well versed in playing the violin, guitar, trumpet and the “guitarron” — a large six-string guitar used by mariachis. Some students also must sing.
He keeps his students busy, filling in many weekends with performances across the state. One weekend it’s a gig at the Sounders game in Seattle. Another weekend is a show at a Tacoma theater or at the state capital for Gov. Jay Inslee.
The students also play at senior centers around their town.
They log their activities, and use them to pad their college, scholarship and job applications.
But for the 25-member traveling class, which is the varsity group of the whole program and usually for juniors and seniors, those trips are important beyond the chance to sing in front different audiences.
Along with shows, Rivera tries to schedule visits to universities and community colleges — that way students whose families don’t have the means to go on college tours, get to visit a campus.
At the colleges, counselors meet with the students to inform them about scholarships and loans.
“If I was at home, I wouldn’t be able to. My family can’t drive six, four hours away from home because I want to go to college. That’s not possible for me. We have to take care of six other kids,” student Yajara Ramirez said.