Anthony Ortega wants to be a firefighter and Delilah Quijada wants to be a pediatrician, but Wednesday morning they were honoring the memory of Cesar Chavez by helping to clean up a South Side neighborhood.
Ortega, 18, and Quijada, 19, are seniors at Toltecalli Academy, a charter high school at 251 W. Irvington Road.
For several hours Wednesday, sometimes wearing orange vests, they scraped dirt and pulled weeds along Nebraska Street. The students adopted the street through the Tucson Clean and Beautiful program.
They and about 50 other students filled several large garbage bags with trash and weeds.
In the process, they said they hoped to improve community relations, showing South Siders they don't have to be fearful when they see Hispanic teens in their neighborhood.
Chavez, the migrant labor leader, was born March 31, 1927, and died April 23, 1993.
The 150 students at the charter school are spending the month learning about his legacy.
Mexican-American Studies teacher Luís Perales, a University of Arizona Mexican-American Studies graduate, teaches Mexican-American Studies at the charter school, a project of the nonprofit Chicanos por La Causa.
All students at Toltecalli Academy must take four years of Mexican-American Studies classes and four years of Spanish language classes, he said. About 40 percent of them are already bilingual .
The idea is to teach them about their heritage, Perales said.
Some of the students live in the neighborhood near the charter school. Others transferred from public high schools.
The Cesar E. Chavez Foundation made a grant to the school to promote the cultural education of the students.
In addition, the students who helped clean Nebraska Street are learning about what Perales called "asset-based community development" - making improvements to existing structures and infrastructure, such as Nebraska Street.
The students are also helping to transform a house at 3649 S. Seventh Ave. into a "green" house, in part by adding water harvesting and permaculture - sustainable plants - to the property.
Eventually, Perales said, the students will work on greening their school.
Quijada said the students also helped an elderly woman in the neighborhood Wednesday who saw them working in the street and asked for help weeding her yard.
"It reminded me of my grandmother. I do a lot for her. It made me feel good to help somebody," she said.
Perales said the juniors and seniors at the charter school are also enrolled at Pima Community College, studying time management, reading and math.
The aim of the charter school is to prepare students for a college education and encourage them to go to college, he said.