Mariachi STEAM summer camp canceled due to COVID-19, community comes together, creates new program

By Cameron Black
Victor Villegas, Co-lead of the STEAM summer project, #CovidCorridos, discusses various details of the program offered to students.

Teresita Guzman Nader, News Reporter

The Mariachi Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics camp, one of the 4-H Youth Development programs at Oregon State University, has been cancelled due to COVID-19. OSU community members, members of other educational institutes, and volunteers have come together to create a new program for LatinX youth. 

Due to COVID-19, the Oregon Mariachi STEAM Camp that takes place every year at Oregon State University was cancelled. Victor Villegas, Technology & Media Support Coordinator for Oregon State University Extension Service, had the idea to create a remote collaborative project called COVID Corridos for the students that were planning to attend the annual Oregon Mariachi STEAM Camp.

The COVID Corridos project aims to help LatinX youth connect with their heritage, gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of their cultural history and raise awareness of how COVID affects LatinX youth and their families’ mental health.

“We are going to teach the kids how are they going to not only write a Corrido but we are going to teach them how to record audio, there is also a STEM component of the audio, because we also have someone from Intel that is going to teach the kids how audio gets converted from an analog, into a digital format,” Villegas said. “And we are also teaching them social media marketing skills so they are going to be able to push this collaborative video about COVID into the public.” 

Brian Shmaefsky, a college professor in Texas, and Villegas will work together as co-leaders in the project COVID Corridos. 

“I teach at a Hispanic Serving Institution and I have heard the individual personal suffering my students are exhibiting because of the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, my students are having difficulties sharing their feelings about COVID because of the social distancing and the online format of our classes,” Shmaefsky said via email. ”Teaming up with Mr. Villegas is providing me with the opportunity to test the effectiveness of using the arts, in this case music, to let the students share their feelings and reduce their isolation through social media and other virtual outlets.”

Romanna Flores, the original organizer for the 4-H STEAM Mariachi Camp will be helping to reach out to the kids interested in the workshop. 

“As one of the original founders of the Mariachi STEAM summer camp program, when Victor approached me about this idea for a virtual songwriting workshop, our team was anxious to explore it,” Flores said via email. “The camp staff (Mariachi music teachers, professional volunteers, and OSU SHPE mentors) were all excited about this year and had grand ideas for how we were going to make 2020 extra special for students – this would have been our fifth year of having the camp.”

Austin Rivera is a volunteer and Intel employee that will help with the STEM component of the workshop, explaining the science and technology behind audio recording. The project has a tentative schedule to start on August 3 and last for about two weeks. 

“For my role in the STEM component what I’m most excited about is being able to get students interested in the sciences.  A lot of the technology we use on a day to day basis is overlooked in all the complex and intricate mechanisms and circuits that it took to create/use it,” Rivera said via email. “Part of it has to do with the accessibility to STEM courses/education/mentors in our school systems that is amplified by racial/socio-economic inequities, and in this case in the Latinx communities. I hope to bridge that gap and show students that they can also take part in STEM.”

A Corrido is a hispanic narrative song often about oppression and social relevant topics that embodies the values of bravery, loyalty, compassion, heartbreak and betrayal. In the COVID Corridos project, middle school and high school students will be able to learn about Corridos and work together with other kids with similar interests to their own.

“Some of my students have been fans of corridos and I have recently had time and opportunity to listen, research, and share some of the important musical and social power of this song form,” Daniel Bosshardt said via email.

Bosshardt is a music teacher that has been one of the main Mariachi music teachers in the past STEAM Mariachi Camps. He will teach the history of Corridos to the kids and help to write the music for the video.”

“We are also going to encourage the kids to use the video to promote it and reach out to famous mariachi bands, and other celebrities to see if they would like to be part of a bigger video or add to that video that the kids do so it grows even bigger,” Villegas said. ”We are kind of making a viral video as much as possible even though it is already about COVID so technically it is already a viral video.”

Patrick Willis, OSU 4-H Youth Development representative is helping with registration logistics and budget distribution for the COVID Corridos project.

“It is taking a very positive and impactful program that has been a residential weeklong summer camp experience and offering it all remotely,” Willis said via email. ”This does have the potential to broaden the impact of the camp in the future by offering it in more rural areas of Oregon without a huge change in the expense. It is also an outlet for kids to share stories [about] how their lives have been impacted with COVID-19 while connecting them with science and their passion for music.”

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