Al nivel local, sí se puede: Bilingual student leader advocates for his community

Daniel and his mom at a school event where he received an award from the debate team.
Daniel and his mom at a school event where he received an award from the debate team.
September 21, 2020

From a very young age Daniel Salgado-Alvarez, a 2020 graduate of Elk Grove High School in Illinois, would get lost in books – he loved reading!

“Cuando yo estaba en la primaria, honestamente, yo leía como tres o cuatro libros a la semana,” Salgado-Alvarez said.

In many cases, Salgado-Alvarez would pick up a book in the morning and finish it by day’s end. His mother, Santanita Salgado, described his interest in reading as a passion: “A Daniel más que nada le gusta mucho la lectura – los libros. Esa es su pasión de él.”

As a bilingual youth and former English learner, Salgado-Alvarez's passion for reading spans Spanish and English. Given his fondness for reading, having access to books – especially when his school closed during summer breaks – was always a challenge for him and his family.

Salgado-Alvarez’s parents immigrated from Mexico and made the northwest suburbs of Chicago their home. Because they live in an unincorporated area of Des Plaines, up until now, they had to pay non-resident fees to access the resources available at the local public library. Since Daniel’s family cannot afford these fees, his mom has always done her best to make sure that all of her sons have access to the books they want to read, as well as those they need for school.

“Como no teníamos acceso a la biblioteca…yo se los compraba para que se los llevaran a la casa y se ponían a leer,” Mrs. Salgado explained.

This was not an issue during the school year, as Salgado-Alvarez was a frequent visitor to his school library. However, summer was a different story because his family could not access the public library for free like other families.

“Desde que era pequeño me gustaba leer diferentes libros. Y como decía mi madre, si yo le decía que necesitaba un libro, ella trataba de comprármelo o buscarlo o encontrar la manera de tenerlo porque no teníamos acceso a la biblioteca pública,” Salgado-Alvarez said.

While in eighth grade, Salgado-Alvarez learned about a summer camp through the local high school that provided students in his community access to books and activities. At the time, this seemed like a way to channel his passion for reading, so he joined the program and continued attending it throughout high school.

But Daniel knew that the summer camp was not enough: “Esto solo es una solución temporaria.” While the program provided books, the selection was very limited. Without access to the local public library, because of the cost of having to pay non-resident fees, Salgado-Alvarez and some of his friends soon realized the program was not enough. They became increasingly aware of the disadvantages faced by students like them who also lacked access to books.

The student group, with support from some teachers, began reaching out to school administrators and local leaders. They wanted to raise awareness of how many K-12 students living in the unincorporated areas of the community did not have access to free books over the summer — simply because they could not afford the non-resident fees at the local public library.

“Durante el verano, no puedes leer si no puedes comprar libros o si no tienes los recursos,” Salgado-Alvarez said.

The students wanted school and local leaders to help address the issue. They persisted in their advocacy, but knew that their concerns were not being heard. That is, until one day in February 2020, when Illinois State Senator Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines) visited their high school. Salgado-Alvarez and his peers had the opportunity to present their idea for the Cards 4 Kids Act to Senator Murphy, who offered to help them. The Cards 4 Kids Act would allow low-income students in unincorporated areas to access the resources at their local library without paying nonresident fees. Senator Murphy presented the Cards 4 Kids Act to the Illinois General Assembly and included the Act in House Bill 2096. This bill ultimately passed the Illinois House and Senate with bipartisan support, and was subsequently approved by the governor in June 2020. These young student leaders helped change state law!

Salgado-Alvarez was recently honored, along with Senator Murphy, as inaugural recipients of the Success for Life Award. The award was given by the Community Consolidated School District 59 Board of Education, which is the school district where Salgado-Alvarez attended kindergarten through eighth grade. This fall, he is headed to Harvard on a full scholarship. There, he wants to major in areas related to government. He also hopes to minor in statistics, since he sees the importance of knowing how to understand and use data to advocate for change and shape public policy.

In the future, Salgado-Alvarez hopes to tap into his passion for community advocacy and his bilingualism to work in government — domestically or abroad. He recognizes that his bilingualism is a gift that allows him to be of service to others around the world. He even aspires to learn a third language while he is in college.

Mrs. Salgado beamed with pride as her son shared his story.

“Mis sueños eran que ellos se superaran. Que ellos lograran a ser alguien…que no trabajen como uno que nunca tuvimos la oportunidad de estudiar,” Mrs. Salgado added.

As a mother, she did what she could to support her sons’ learning at home, and this included constantly encouraging them and motivating them to continue their studies and do well in school. And for Salgado-Alvarez, it also meant making sure he had the books he loved to read. Now, as her son prepares to leave for Harvard, she knows he will continue to surpass the hopes and dreams she had for his future — especially given his recent experience as a community advocate.

Salgado-Alvarez offers the following advice to other youth like him that want to make a difference in their community: “Cuando hay un problema, así nacional, uno piensa que no puedes hacer nada. Pero al nivel local, sí se puede. Hay mucho que puedes hacer en tu comunidad…Siento que eso es importante – enfocarte en lo local porque allí es donde puedes hacer muchos cambios.”

Imagine what your students can do to help their local community.

To learn more about the Cards 4 Kids Act, click here.

About the Author

Lorena Mancilla serves as the director of WIDA Early Years. Her research focuses on the intersection of family engagement and language education.