Every day, hundreds of kids in Mexico wake up extra early to cross the border and attend school in the U.S.
It's an unusual commute with border traffic, security checks, and metal detectors all before your first class, but parents jump at the opportunity to have their kids educated in the United States. And for the most part, the schools are happy to have them.
The border in El Paso, Texas. All images via XQ Super School Project.
It's no secret that many of these kids face serious disadvantages in school. There are language barriers and discrimination to deal with on top of the fact that many of the children come from impoverished communities.
Additionally, the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico threatens to tear some of these communities in half and leave kids further behind.
El Paso, Texas, is a city that shares a deep relationship with its twin city — Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
The teachers in El Paso welcome Mexican students as their own and recognize that giving them the best education possible isn't just the right thing to do, it's essential to building a better world.
"It's really important for people to understand that Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, we are one community," says Liza Montelongo, executive director of the El Paso STEM Foundation. "Yes, we have a river that divides us, and yes, we are two countries, but ultimately if we are depriving one part of our community, then we are doing a disservice to all of us."
To help bring their community together, one school in El Paso decided to form a group that takes aim at another issue.
Women entering careers in science, technology, engineering, and math face a multitude of barriers. There are large systemic biases like the gender pay gap as well as smaller, more personal impediments.
For example, young girls who do well in STEM classes are often teased, and their potential interest in the subjects isn't cultivated as much as it might be for a young boy.
That's where the "Chicas" come in.
The Chicas are a badass group of girls who are bridging international borders with their love for science.
They work together building robots, programing computers, and cultivating their love for STEM.
"As girls get older, sometimes it's not cool to be smart," Montelongo says. "So our goal is to try and say, you know what, it's OK to be a nerd."
Not only are the Chicas helping to close the gender gap in STEM, they're creating leaders in a marginalized community.
People in STEM are the leaders and innovators of the future. They're the ones who can use their talents and out-of-the-box thinking to solve the biggest problems facing the world — and research shows that when STEM fields are diversified, they produce better ideas.
For the twin cities of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, the Chicas provide an opportunity to come together and celebrate a common passion.
"It doesn't matter if you live on the north side of the river or you live on the south side," Montelongo says. "We need to be able to give them some type of opportunity to be able to have their dream."
It's a simple idea — bringing marginalized students together to celebrate science — but anyone who loves STEM knows that simple ideas can change the world.
Learn more at XQSuperSchool.org.