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SCSD Students Celebrate Hispanic Heritage at Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute

This is a photo of students and staff attending the PRHYLI Gala, wearing formal gear and smiling at the camera.Thanks to the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute, SCSD high school students recently had the opportunity to learn about the legislative process in New York State, develop their leadership skills, learn about responsible civic engagement, and connect with their Latino roots.
Nine students – representing Corcoran, Nottingham, and PSLA at Fowler, participated in eight sessions this winter with other delegations from Central New York school districts. Then, in March, two of them were selected by their peers to represent the SCSD at the PRHYLI Conference in Albany. In April, the group came together again for the closing gala, where they had the opportunity to reconnect with friends they made over the course of the program.
“This opportunity really appealed to me because it was Hispanic-based,” Corcoran junior Janzel Santa shared. “I never really dive into anything at school that honors my heritage. I was able to meet students from districts all around the area… some of them only spoke Spanish! It was really nice… I made a lot of strong bonds.”
Janzel was elected to represent the SCSD in Albany, where he toured Union College, met the people who created the PRHYLI program, toured the State Capitol Building, and then headed to the Assembly floor, where he participated in a mock debate about three pieces of legislation. There, he was assigned to be a Republican, arguing against bills relating to school-based detention, immigration, and more.
“Before we debated, we met as a group and shared the information we had learned,” he shared. “It definitely made me think deeply about Hispanic representation in government and what we can do to make sure there are more of us to speak out about issues that impact us. I also made great connections that can help me now as I look ahead to college. I’d tell other students: take this opportunity! Even if you don’t get chosen to go to Albany, it’s a great leadership opportunity.”
PSLA at Fowler senior Maria Ortiz agreed. She attended the Institute this year for her second year in a row, noting that while she doesn’t have intentions of pursuing work in government or policy, the program helped improve her confidence and give her soft skills that she hopes will set her ahead as she continues her studies at Niagara University next year – ultimately hoping to become a nurse.
“I enjoyed getting to see firsthand what really happens in a democracy,” Maria shared. “It’s a great environment because you never feel unwelcome – it feels like you’re around your people. Hispanics can sometimes be naturally loud, and I felt like I could be myself there without someone looking over my shoulder judging me.”
Janzel shared that perspective, noting that he hopes to ultimately work in real estate or fashion photography – but is still grateful for the experience of the Institute.
“I wasn’t really interested in government at all before, but after completing the program, I definitely feel more confident in my ability to pursue law or to make a contribution to the government in some way,” he explained.”
PSLA at Fowler Guidance Secretary Sheila Guzman has been chaperoning SCSD students at the PRHYLI since 2017. She also serves as a translator for students who may only speak Spanish and struggle to follow along with the English program. She said it’s been heartwarming to see the program expand from 1-2 students when she began with the program to today.
“This experience shows our students that their community is bigger than they thought,” Ms. Guzman shared. “It opens their eyes. It allows them to form relationships with Latinos from all throughout the county and the state. They’re also able to see successful Latino leaders, talk with them one-on-one, and receive support. Over the course of the program, I see their confidence grow – they really learn to use their voices, and they ultimately connect to their roots, becoming one big family.”
We’re proud of the students who participated in this opportunity to become #SCSDCivicReady: Corcoran students Bel Lianis Carrasquillo, Janzel Santa, and Ruth Coriano; Nottingham students Kelly Carriel, Michel Triana, Pavel Rojas Delgado, Patricia Rodriguez Reyes, and Yareliz Diaz Fernandez; and PSLA at Fowler student Maria Ortiz.
Anthony Q. Davis, Superintendent
725 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
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