How an East Valley Charter School Inspired One Student to Think Globally
Gala Palavicini arrived in the United States last year hoping to learn how to navigate the college application process so she could attend school in this country.
Although she took important steps towards achieving that goal, her most important lesson occurred while she was enrolled as a high school senior at Paragon Academy, a K-12 public charter school in Chandler.
As a resident of Chandler, a Phoenix suburb, with an international background, Palavicini, 19, was a perfect fit for the school, which has a student body representing more than 15 different countries, including France, Sudan and El Salvador.
However, the school’s diverse population didn’t just allow her to feel more comfortable; it taught her that all students are connected regardless of background or country of origin.
“I never quite understood that there’s a whole world out there that we should learn about,” said Palavicini, who graduated from Paragon in May and still volunteers at the school a couple of times per week. “The good thing about Paragon is we have people from all over the world.”
While Palavicini had graduated from high school in Mexico and started attending college, her family moved to Arizona and became residents because of the violence plaguing parts of the country. The education credits from Mexico were difficult to transfer and continue a college education in the United States. Therefore, Palavicini made the decision to repeat her senior year of high school to allow an easier transition to college. But she had trouble finding a local school that would accept her.
Paragon turned out to be a perfect fit for her.
“Here, you can be yourself. No one is going to bully you,” said Palavicini, who graduated from Paragon in May and continues to volunteer at the school. “They didn’t make me feel like a foreigner. The diversity made the transition easier.”
She eventually participated in numerous activities at the school, including folk dancing and the College Mentorship and Leadership Program, which promotes academic achievement and personal development. Palavicini is still an active member of the program.
“She’s a very smart, intelligent and caring student,” said language teacher Asli Karatas. Karatas mentors Palavicini for the College Mentorship and Leadership Program. “She’s very smart with learning other cultures.”
Although Palavicini has varied interests, the school cultivated her passion for global education and erasing barriers between cultures.
Palavicini’s interest in international relations led to her giving a talk last month at a TEDx event sponsored by the Chandler Public Library, where she also volunteers.
In the speech, she discussed the challenges with Mexico and its problems from an outside perspective now that she’s in the United States. She emphasized the importance of building cultural bridges.
“I know they understand because they’re sons or daughters of immigrants or immigrants themselves,” she said. “Some people came up to me at the end and said ‘yes, I identify with you’.”
Palavicini is currently taking college classes online, where she majors in International studies. She wants to either become a diplomat or work with the United Nations. Her ultimate goal is to help people realize we’re all connected with more similarities than differences.
“I believe international relations shouldn’t just be for economics, politics and trade. We already do that,” she said. “We all have the same dreams, same goals. If you do it at a human level, everything else will come easily.”