Three Atwater High Classmates Serve as Yosemite Seasonal Rangers
This is the first in a two-part series on seasonal rangers at Yosemite National Park.
Nobody gets to Yosemite National Parkwithout a steep climb - the park's elevation ranges from 2,000 to more than 13,000 feet above sea level. But a few of the seasonal rangers in Yosemite this year have reached the top of an especially high summit - and they say it's been a defining experience.
"We could see the mountains from a distance, but we never actually thought we could go there," said UC Merced mechanical engineeringstudent Janet Melgoza. "It wasn't until high school that we actually came here."
"I used to live by the highway in Merced, and I used to see the signs for Yosemite," said Carla Saldana, who will transfer to UC Merced this fall from her current school. "But I never connected it with the place. To this day, my parents have never come up here. A lot of people who are working class just go out to visit family, not to enjoy themselves."
Melgoza, Saldana and Deedee Cha all graduated from Atwater High School in 2005 and participated in the Environmental Science Academy. Their teacher, Maynard Medefind, had brought them on a week-long backpacking trip to Yosemite as sophomores - an almost unheard-of feat of daring for these young women from first-generation immigrant families. Melgoza's and Saldana's parents came from Mexico, and Cha's parents arrived as Hmong refugees from Laos.
All three felt an expectation from their traditional cultures that they stay home and help care for the younger children in their families.
"As I was growing up, I helped my younger siblings get ready for school every day. My parents were working all the time, late shifts. There was a lot of responsibility on me to help out, do errands and be the role model," said Melgoza.
That can be daunting for young people who care deeply about their families and want to do their part. Many immigrant parents are also understandably concerned about their children's safety in an unfamiliar place. But to their credit, the three families all wanted to support their daughters educational goals and ultimately encouraged the Yosemite trip.