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For the past two years, we have proudly supported Rainier Scholars' 14-month Academic Enrichment Program's (AEP) literacy course. Rainier Scholars is an educational nonprofit that supports students from underrepresented, low income households in the Seattle and Tacoma communities. What we really like about Rainier Scholars is their long-term and holistic approach to learning.

Every year, Rainier Scholars selects a group of 4th grade students to start a journey beginning in 5th grade and continuing all the way through to college graduations. The Academic Enrichment Program is the beginning of their journey. Along the way, Rainier Scholars in collaboration with their partners, provide students supplemental academic coursework, academic counseling, career exploration, mentoring, internships, and comprehensive family support.

It is wonderful to think that students are given these kinds of opportunities and resources from such an early age. It got me thinking about what the heck I was doing when I was in 5th grade.

It certainly was a simpler time back then. School supplies consisted of nothing more than a backpack, spiral notebook, textbooks, and a number 2 pencil. We didn't have computers or the Internet. There weren't any advanced placement classes and the only social issue we would discuss was what we were planning to do during recess that day.

I attended Riverside Elementary school in Sacramento. It is a public school located about two miles away from home. On most days, my neighborhood friends and I walked to school. At the beginning of every school year, I remember that I would always be assigned a desk near the front since my last name started with an "A". How I envied the students whose last name started with a letter closer to "Z". My 5th grade teacher was Mrs. Harris. She was a strict teacher and most definitely not my favorite, but then again, I wasn't the best of students either.

The school's student body was fairly diverse - racially, ethnically, and economically. Most kids were from low to middle class families. Although, to be honest, I don't think I ever thought about the differences. We were all just kids, but as I look back, growing up around this diversity definitely had an impact on me. I don't know what I learned from school itself, but I did learn a lot about getting along, other people and cultures, and life just by being exposed to this diversity.

Of course there was classwork and homework, but school was not as demanding or broad as it is today. Elementary school students are expected to learn so much more than writing, reading, and arithmetic. In the very best cases, they are also learning about subjects such as leadership, teamwork, overcoming adversity, values, and self-worth.

Things I didn't learn until much later in life.

I still remember when I first learned about the US government's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Even then, school textbooks did little to shed any light on the true scale and impact that the illegal incarceration had on Japanese American families and communities. Impacts that are still felt even today. I remember how surprised and upset I was to learn that my parents, along with over 120,000 other Japanese Americans who lived along the West Coast, were forcibly evacuated from their homes and businesses before being incarcerated in concentration camps for the duration of the war. All for no other reason than being of Japanese ancestry.

The sad truth is, anyone would be hard pressed to find a race of people who weren't persecuted or oppressed at some point in history because of the color of their skin, belief systems, life circumstances, or heritage. Learning about the Japanese American experience led me to explore other aspects and modalities that taught me important life lessons on facing and overcoming adversity, the value of perseverance, and the power of resiliency. It also taught me that much more needs to be done to create a more just and fair society where everyone can thrive.

It is only by studying and learning from our history, the good and the bad, that we can ever hope for a better, more just future, which gives ever more credence for youth education and development programs that build upon not only academics, but also self-confidence, resilience, perseverance, self-awareness, and self-discipline. It is one of the reasons we chose to support Rainier Scholars and their 5th grade Academic Enrichment Program.

We are proud to be able to provide each student with the collection of books for the AEP's Literary Course. During the course, students are introduced to a wide array of literature dealing with subjects from self awareness and building self-confidence to ethics and values, diversity, and leadership while also learning and developing new critical reading and learning skills. Important lessons that can hone their critical thinking skills and awareness of their own thought processes. Valuable skillsets that they can carry throughout their lives.

For the 2022 Rainier Scholars, their learning journey is just beginning.

From all of us at Red String, to all the upcoming 5th grade students in Seattle and Tacoma who were selected as one of this year's Scholars, we extend our heartiest congratulations and wish them the very best in their learning journey and in life.

(to be continued)

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