NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- "Go back and be really sarcastic," ordered director Linda Henderson who is putting actors from Northfield High School through their paces.
It's one of the final rehearsals for a series of one-act plays that comprised this year's Latino Play Festival.
The students are all Latino, and members of the performing arts class taught by ESL teacher Jennifer Lompart.
"I think there's just kind of a gap that exists between Mexican culture and mainstream culture," said Lompart, who created the class at the request of a student.
"I think there are a lot of misunderstandings, stereotypes that are prevalent, even here in the high school hallways."
Lompart works with the class through the fall. Students begin by sharing, then writing their stories. Eventually, they will chose a handful they want to polish into a final piece they will present to audiences at the school, and to the community at large.
The stories are nothing short of heart-breaking. Students talk about trying to juggle full-time jobs with school -- sometimes falling asleep at their desks.
Another story re-tells a teenaged girl's plight of having to ride share every day with a man who gropes her. Still another story recounts a conversation with a factory boss who won't let workers use the restroom unless there's a scheduled break. Instead, he chides the student to use a bag.
"I think as Americans we think that we're past that," said Lompart, "but it's still going on."
The plays also give student an outlet for their desire to act.
"My Latino students have always wanted to be part of the plays, the musical, speech," said Lompart. "In the past, they've always been fearful and either they won't show up for the try out, or they just perform poorly because they are so nervous."
Success breeds success. Once students saw last year's inaugural festival, more latino students signed up this year, including Gerardo, a soft-spoken sophomore. "When I saw the play last year, it got my attention, so this year I signed up," he said.
Lompart makes time for a question and answer session after her students present the plays to their school audiences. She says the discussions sometimes continue into the hallways of the school.
Next year, she will widen the scope of the class, inviting students who aren't Latino into the mix. Lompart says her Latino students need to tackle their own misconceptions about white students.
"I'm hoping we can tackle some of those," she said.
In the end, everyone can benefit from the students' stories.
"The audience will learn so many things, and I think they'll feel more connected to the students," said Lompart.
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved.)