December 2020 | Issue 82
Greetings from the Free Minds family to you and yours! In the spirit of the season, this issue includes stories of giving, triumph, and hope for the future. Read about two inspiring Free Minds alumnae, and enjoy an op-ed on distance learning by graduate Aimee Luna, '17.
Free Minds Alum Votes For First Time
This election season, through the efforts of activists and volunteers, numerous Americans have cast their ballots for the first time. Our own Lauretta Calamito, '20, has one such story.
A resident of Foundation Communities in her 60s, Lauretta had reasons for not voting in the past. “I never thought a politician was worthy of my vote,” said Lauretta. “I never trusted them.” A native of Long Island, NY, Lauretta felt discouraged by corruption and a lack of checks and balances in her home town.
This year was different for Lauretta. “I wanted to take an active part and be civic minded. I wanted to vote for things that can help others, especially students and the elderly,” she said. Lauretta recalls with pride the day that she cast her vote at the Austin Central Library--when she informed the volunteer poll-worker that she was a first time voter, the woman announced it, and the entire line broke out in applause. What an apt reminder to celebrate every voice in this country.
Lauretta spent much of her adult life as a caretaker for her aging parents, and she now devotes her time volunteering for those experiencing homelessness. With this background, Lauretta says she will continue voting with particular interest in local elections, where policies can more immediately impact those in her city and neighborhood.
“There are so many who would give their right arm to vote. I thought about all those people who can’t, and I’ve realized it really is a privilege,” said Lauretta. She would like to give a special thanks to Foundation Communities’ staff members, Mirca Cruz-Melchor and Chris Larson for helping her register and for walking with her to the polls.
We thank you, Lauretta, for reminding us of the power of our voices!
Saturday, Dec. 12
Writing Powerful Application Essays
Our upcoming 2nd Saturday is all about how we present ourselves and our stories through personal statements for scholarships, college applications, and even in professional settings. Join us to explore this essential skill by tuning into Zoom. The link and additional information are on our website:

December 12, 10:30 am - noon
Your Personal Alchemy: How to Write a Powerful Application Essay
led by poet, entrepreneur, and Free Minds Writing Instructor Laurie Filipelli
A Social Worker With Big Plans
This month, Sandy Fernandez, '18, will walk across the virtual stage to mark the completion of her associate degree in social work.
When she stepped out of the Free Minds classroom two years ago, she stepped straight into another at Austin Community College. Those years at ACC were eventful. Sandy was accepted into Ascender, an ACC program that celebrates Latinx culture and provides students a clear pathway to transfer to bachelor degree programs. She published a poem in The Rio Review, a literary magazine that showcases the creative writing of ACC students. She was accepted to an honors society and landed a paid internship with Travis County.
As a native Spanish speaker without much experience in the English-speaking classroom, Sandy was nervous to begin her college journey. She remembers one early Free Minds class when alumni spoke of their accomplishments after the program. The inspiration from that class carried her through the hard times.
Sandy attributes her success to staying organized and refusing to let procrastination tempt her. She now implores all hoping to apply to a university to keep a detailed journal—document volunteer hours and accomplishments, and include dates and times. These records have turned out to be essential for Sandy in her college applications.
As a mother, full-time employee, and full-time student, Sandy assures us, “You have to work really hard, but you can make it. It’s not impossible.” And she has big plans for her future. She plans to enroll in classes for spring 2021 at a four-year institution and will continue studying social work. Ultimately she plans to use her talents to help immigrants build successful lives in the United States.
UPDATE: We have recently learned that Sandy has been accepted to all three of the universities to which she applied—Texas State University, St. Edward’s University, and The University of Texas at Austin. She plans to begin at UT Austin in the School of Social Work this January. Way to go, Sandy! We can’t wait to witness what lies ahead for you.
Special Thanks
This fall our alumni English composition class was packed with incredible minds. We are grateful to the folks who made it possible. A huge thank you goes out to our outstanding faculty for enriching our classroom each week.

We also thank the following class visitors for sharing their special skills and knowledge:

  • Yvette Benevides, Author, Professor of Creative Writing and English, Our Lady of the Lake University
  • Oscar Cásares, Author, Professor of Creative Writing, The University of Texas at Austin
  • J Muzacz, Visual Artist, Muralist, co-founder of The Mosaic Workshop
  • Carmen Rangel, Visual Artist, Muralist, co-founder of The Mosaic Workshop
  • Tina Van Winkle, Librarian and Arts Administrator
The Final Word
Students in this fall's alumni class completed a unit on op-ed writing with Creative Writing Professor Vivé Griffith. During that unit, the group learned effective research methods and used those skills to write about issues that matter to them.

Below Aimee Luna, '17, offers her perspective on distance learning.
In March, 2020 my five-year-old granddaughter left school on Friday afternoon looking forward to spring break. Eight months later, we still haven’t returned to school. Not much is certain these days. However, one certainty is we’re now a homeschooling family. Our experience has made one thing crystal clear, Texas must expand resources for homeschooling families beyond Covid-19. 

I’m fifty-one years old and the primary caretaker for my granddaughter. We’re officially enrolled in public school, receiving school work through the distance-learning program. I’m referred to as her distance-learning coach. I feel honored to have this role in her life as this is her education and will affect her entire future. We take it seriously.

While I wholeheartedly agree there are advantages to educating children in traditional schools, I contend that there are equally important advantages to homeschooling them. In Psychology Today, Dr. Peter Gray states, “Education is the sum of everything a person learns that enables that person to live a full and meaningful life.” Dr. Gray connects to one of the biggest advantages of home-schooling: the opportunity to customize the agenda. Take, for example, civic engagement. While the school teaches civic engagement through discussion and worksheets, due to home-schooling flexibilities we’ve made it more meaningful. After our lesson, we promptly went to the local food bank where we’re now volunteering in the garden every Friday morning. From this experience, my granddaughter learns: responsibility, that she can contribute to making a difference in other people’s lives, the benefit of hard work and sacrifice, inclusivity of people, job skills, and how to fill idle time wisely.  

These are all crucial life-skills.

The Nebraska Extension Early Childhood Development website states, “Research suggests adults who engage children in culturally responsive educational experiences help to: 1) build young children’s self-confidence and skills, 2) increase children’s awareness, appreciation and inclusion of diverse beliefs and cultures, and 3) maximize children’s academic achievement and educational success.” For example, our social studies assignment addressed, “Why Diversity Matters.” But the assignment was merely a five minute video accompanied by a worksheet with five questions. I wondered, “Is that really the extent of her studies on diversity for the entire first grade year?” Regardless, it piqued her interest and, again, due to homeschooling flexibility, we capitalized on this moment. We spent the month on books, documentaries, and projects expanding our knowledge of how children live all over the world simultaneously making memories of family time.  

Families have many compelling reasons for opting for homeschooling. The National Home Education Research Institute notes, “customizing the curriculum and providing guided and reasoned social interactions with youthful peers and adults” as some of the biggest factors. During this unprecedented time, every family in Texas is faced with the daunting decision of keeping their children home where they’re safer from Covid, or allowing them to return to school, exposing them to an illness we’re just now learning about and which could lead to death.

To be sure, not every family can choose homeschooling. Not all have someone in the house who can dedicate the time to schooling the children. However, consider this data from the Texas HomeSchool Coalition, the most prominent homeschooling interest group in the state - 3,114 families (15% increase) have withdrawn their children from school in July, 2020, up from 201 last year. The reality is the longer families engage in homeschooling, the greater the possibility they’ll decide to continue after Covid. Right now there’s no end to this crisis in the foreseeable future.  

Now is the perfect time for Texas school districts to expand resources for homeschooling families. There have been tremendous strides made, and we now know that it’s completely realistic. To go back to the way things were would be ludicrous. “Everything is bigger in Texas,” and this should apply to our homeschooling resources too.  
A program of Foundation Communities, in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin and Austin Community College, Free Minds offers a two-semester college course in the humanities for Central Texas adults who want to fulfill their intellectual potential and begin a new chapter in their lives.
Free Minds Project
Foundation Communities
5900 Airport Blvd.
Austin TX, 78752
Academic Director: Amelia Pace-Borah
Community Liaison: Dallas Klein
F: 512-447-0288
Ph: 512-610-7961