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caption: Eriberto Saavedra Felix (right) and his teacher and mentor, Reid Sunblad, attend a Seahawks game — even though Eriberto is a 49ers fan.
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Eriberto Saavedra Felix (right) and his teacher and mentor, Reid Sunblad, attend a Seahawks game — even though Eriberto is a 49ers fan.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/Eriberto Saavedra Felix

Being vulnerable doesn't make me less of a man. Los Siete taught me that

When I was twelve years old, I was always trying to get away from my family. Soccer was my escape. But when I didn’t have soccer, I was in my room with my door closed.

I never talked to my mom. I didn’t have a close relationship with my sister, and I didn’t talk to my dad because he never seemed interested in talking to me. That’s what I thought it meant to be a man: to be silent and not show any weakness.

I felt isolated. Then, in 7th grade, I met my physical education teacher, Reid Sundblad.



Mr. Sundblad created a group called Los Siete to help support students at Chinook Middle School. Luckily, I was one of those students.

Los Siete, the Seven, started with seven boys who needed help and guidance.

Mr. Sundblad told me they were getting in trouble, and they weren’t following school expectations. Their grades were slipping, and they were having trouble paying attention in class.

The administration noticed that these boys were pretty well-behaved in gym class, and they connected with Mr. Sundblad more than any other teacher. They asked Mr. Sundblad if he could help them.

Los Siete started as a group to help those seven boys with academics, but it turned into something more meaningful.

caption: Los Siete started as a group for seven middle school boys at Chinook Middle School. Since then, the group has grown to about 150 students.
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Los Siete started as a group for seven middle school boys at Chinook Middle School. Since then, the group has grown to about 150 students.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/Eriberto Saavedra Felix

In Los Siete, Mr. Sundblad teaches us how to express our emotions.

“Showing emotion is a relief,” Mr. Sundblad said. “It’s an opportunity for you to let go of pent-up feelings."

“I liken it to a bottle under pressure that’s been shaken up," he said. "If these boys don’t release those feelings inside, they’re just gonna blow up one day."

According to the American Psychological Association, boys learn how to be a man from the male role models in their lives.

caption: Every first Friday of the month, members of Los Siete get together in Chinook Middle School's gym.
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Every first Friday of the month, members of Los Siete get together in Chinook Middle School's gym.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/Eriberto Saavedra Felix

When I became a member of Los Siete, I thought it was weird at first. Mr. Sundblad was so welcoming to all of us. I saw guys hugging each other like they were brothers. It wasn’t something I was used to.

“If young men could learn to express themselves” in words, Mr. Sundblad said, then they wouldn’t have to express themselves through violence.

He also believes that helping young men to talk about their emotions could even help decrease gang affiliation and drug use.

“When you can’t express yourself, you can’t express your ability to not want to do something, to not participate in something," he said. "Through my experience talking with boys, they don’t want to do a lot of these things.”

Growing up, Mr. Sundblad felt like he didn't have anyone he could talk to about his emotions.

"I did have friends," Mr. Sundblad said. "But I have now found, since being a teacher, that I could’ve navigated middle school and high school more easily had I had someone to share with.”

The things Mr. Sundblad has taught me have helped me become closer to my family.

Now my home, which was so quiet, buzzes with energy.

When I come home from school on a regular day, my little brother runs to me as I open the door, yelling my name.

I have a stronger relationship with my parents than I ever had before.

I have an inseparable bond with my sister. We always laugh and joke around together now, and I don’t know what I’ll do without her when she goes off to college.

I’m even trying to teach my little brother some of the things Mr. Sundblad taught me: how to respect others and show love.

I want my brother to know I will always be there for him.

caption: Eriberto (left) with his family at his sister's graduation.
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Eriberto (left) with his family at his sister's graduation.
Credit: Courtesy of Eriberto Saavedra Felix

This story was created in KUOW's RadioActive Intro to Journalism Workshop for 15- to 18-year-olds, with production support from Kamna Shastri. Edited by Mary Heisey.

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