ATWATER — At first, a new women studies program was perceived as a man-hating class, but teacher Annie Delgado said that's not the case.
The program at Atwater's Buhach Colony High School welcomes and supports young men, too, Delgado said, with the goal of getting all students to reach their full potential.
Delgado has taught the elective class for five years, with more than 400 students participating. As far as she knows, there are no classes like it in the United States.
"The interest and demand for the class is there, and (for) what we accomplish. In its early stages, it was viewed as a man-hating class, but they realize it's so not that," Delgado said.
"Our goal is to empower young men and women, to recognize the strengths each person has to offer our society," she said.
Through Skype, women's studies students have interacted with such prominent women as Maria Shriver, former California first lady; Gloria Steinem, women's advocate; DeeDee Myers, the first female White House press secretary; and Natalie Ran-dolph, the first female football coach in the nation.
More recently, the group heard from Colleen Dettling, an FBI special agent; and Amy Trask, the Oakland Raiders' chief executive officer.
Students also got to hear from Susannah Wellford-Shakow, the founder and CEO of Running Start. Her organization seeks to increase the number of women in public office.
Her students also created a video for a former class guest, pop singer Whitney Wolanin. The video has received more than 130,000 YouTube views, and Wolanin rewarded them with a surprise concert at the school and performed at the prom.
And Delgado isn't done. She hopes to land Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state; Lisa Ling, documentary producer; and even actor Dustin Hoffman.
But before any of these people participate in the Skype chats, her students must research each of their accomplishments to prepare for the discussions.
"There are no other high school students who are able to put on their résumé that they have been able to interact with historical figures," Delgado said. "Skype has allowed us to reach people we wouldn't be able to travel to in other parts of the world."
Jackie Dominguez, 18, a senior, said this class has "opened her eyes a lot." She said she will be the first one in her family to graduate from high school and has learned confidence and self-respect.
She wants to go to the University of California at San Francisco and become a surgeon.
"Mrs. Delgado is a good mentor," Dominguez said. "I encourage others to take this class. A lot of people don't expect Hispanics to do good, and that motivates me even more."
Stacy McAfee, Buhach Colony principal, said the women's studies class is an extraordinary opportunity.
"It opens doors for them and shows them how they can be successful and achieve their dreams," McAfee said. "It exposes them to powerful women and is the only class of its kind in the country."
Delgado, a civil rights and employment law attorney from 1998-2001 in Washington, D.C., said she fell into teaching in 2001 and loves it. She said she is persistent and puts herself where she can to advance her efforts.
There are 15 male students in her class now, and they feel welcomed and supported, she said.
"The goal is to understand who they are and where they come from," Delgado said. "We are all in this together. Young men recognize women are equal, and should be valued and respected. The students' sense of success comes at different points in the class."
Nadia Long, 17, a senior, said many of her classmates have bonded. She hopes to go to Merced College and then California State University, Sacramento. She wants to be a chiropractor.
"It's actually a great class," Nadia said of women's studies. "It brings us all together, and we all become a family. In class, we can tell personal secrets and bond together. It broadens horizons, how people see each other. Everybody is going through the same thing, and we shouldn't judge others."
Delgado said teenagers may have unhealthy relationships, self-esteem problems, drugs, alcohol or bullying issues in their lives.
"Those issues know no gender," Delgado said. "We identify what is broken, how to improve them and make a difference.
"In our society, feminism has a negative connotation," she explained. "A feminist seeks equality in a social, political and economic setting. No, we don't hate men."
Delgado said 273 students signed up for the 2013-14 academic year but only 70 students will be able to take the class.
Fernando Almaraz, 16, a junior, said Delgado has inspired him to overcome obstacles in his life and he aspires to be a judge.
"Mrs. Delgado is a good teacher. It's a life-changer," Fernando said of the women's studies class. "Once here, we were able to see how women were judged.
"With determination," he added, "you can achieve things."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.