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High Tech High students hike in tribute to asylum seekers

A group of San Diego high school students took a hike last week attempting to cover 100 miles to bring awareness to asylum-seeking immigrants. Their mission didn’t go exactly as planned, but KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez tells us they got a lesson of a life time.

A group of San Diego high school students took a hike last week attempting to cover 100 miles to bring awareness to asylum-seeking immigrants.

About a dozen sophomores and a few freshmen from the Jacobs High Tech High School in Liberty Station learned wilderness survival strategies and packed what they could carry before setting out on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The trail is 2,600 miles of mountains and desert leading north all the way to the Canadian border. It starts in Campo in far east San Diego County near the Mexican border.

“We came out of Campo and it was really hot,” said Silas Dreyer, 15, a 10th-grade student who had never done an overnight hike. “You get used to how you organize your pack. How much weight and you discard things you don’t need. Eventually, you get that perfect amount of weight and gear you need just to get yourself there,” he said.

The group was led by Ryan Urie, a 10th-grade Humanities teacher, and Taya Chase, a 9th-grade math teacher. Both are experienced hikers with extensive wilderness training. The project is called 100 Degrees of Freedom.

“It’s really the 'degree of freedom' or the degree at which a migrant or a refugee is traveling on foot to seek asylum," Chase said. "Ultimately, we wanted students to experience what it’s like to travel that far on foot.”

In past years, the student hike has also served as a fundraising event for Casa Cornelia, a nonprofit law center providing legal services to victims of human and civil rights violations.

School officials hope to do more fundraising for the center next year. This year was about awareness and providing a tribute to the real-life struggles of immigrants risking their lives to reach the U.S.

“We were able to do stops along the trail, they have to go off with nothing,” said Marley Shepard, 16, a sophomore, “so it’s something to really keep in mind that they have to find shelter and they need to survive and live. I needed to see that on this trip and in my eyes.”

The social awareness was also complemented by physical and emotional victories, too.

Ally Price,16, said, “I realized my mindset needed to change. So, I changed from a mindset that this is so hard and sucks to you have to get through it because there is no cop-out.”

Valentino Martinez,15, was one of the few freshmen on the hike. “I wasn’t wobbly and I was going quite slow. But I went from 2 miles per hour to 3 miles per hour even with the heat. That makes me proud,” he said.

In the end, the students made it a few days and to the 77-mile mark just east of Julian. They were tired, with a bittersweet feeling and a life lesson learned hiking in the footsteps of asylum seekers.

  • The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was initiated by President Barack Obama in 2012. But it was not supposed to last this long. Permanent immigration reform is still out of reach and the futures of DACA recipients remain uncertain.