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SCSD Students Visit Albany for Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute

This is a photo of five SCSD students who attended the PRHYLI, standing in front of a balloon arch dressed up and smiling at the camera.It was her junior year in high school, and Nottingham student Natalia Arocho, now a senior, said she had been struggling to find her niche.

“I felt like I was kind of whitewashed,” she explained. “I wasn’t Hispanic enough for some people, but I am Hispanic! When I heard about the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute, I wanted to join because I felt really disconnected from my culture.”

The Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PRHYLI) brings together a delegation of Hispanic students from across New York State to help students develop their leadership skills, interact with positive role models of Puerto Rican and Hispanic heritage, develop knowledge of the state legislative process, and more. Students are invited to come together with their area ‘delegation’ for a series of eight full-day sessions, where they learn about legislation and the legislative process, conduct research, and of course, make friends and get inspired! At the end of the Institute, all 8 delegations from across the state come together in Albany, where they participate in a mock assembly in the New York State Legislature.

“Last year, we couldn’t go to Albany to visit the State Legislature because of COVID,” Natalia explained. “The Mock Assembly was virtual. But they did host a Gala event to wrap up the experience. I remember walking into the hotel ballroom and hearing the Latin music and dancing with people I didn’t even know… I loved it! This experience created core memories that I’ll remember forever, so I knew I had to participate again this year.”

This year, a group of about 200 students from across the state participated in the Institute, including five from the SCSD – three PSLA at Fowler students and two from Nottingham. They enjoyed breakout sessions and workshops where they got to know each other and had meaningful discussions.

“We had debates about if the media is exploiting the Latino community, if there is enough Hispanic representation in government, if immigrants should have representation in court, if there should be more diversity officers in school, and so much more,” Natalia said. “I learned how the whole legislative process can be really tedious. We learned how to argue for both sides of an issue, and how you can have a really good point and not get called on to express it. There aren’t a ton of opportunities like this for Hispanics, and there should be. It really made me develop an interest in possibly pursuing political science!”
PSLA senior Gerardo Becerra enjoyed representing Assemblyman Christopher Friend at the Mock Assembly in Albany. One issue he struggled with? The Assemblyman is a Republican, and many of his policies ran contrary to Gerardo’s beliefs.
“Through this experience, I was challenged to take on his positions on things and argue for them,” he shared. “It was difficult, but I learned to work through it. It was a good experience to go through. We honed our ability to read legislation and legal documents, and we learned how bills move through to a vote. But my favorite part was having the opportunity to be in touch with Latino people from other areas. It was nice seeing that there are Latinos in other areas of Central New York that I had assumed would be largely white. We’re not usually given opportunities to celebrate our heritage, so it was great to be there, speaking in Spanish and celebrating our culture. It gives me hope for the future. I’m so glad that other students will be able to experience this – that other Latinos will be able to experience how important it is to be connected to your culture.”
PSLA junior Maria Ortiz agreed that the experience helped expand her knowledge of government – but said the experience was about so much more than that.
“I didn’t know much about politics before I joined the Institute, but I really like debating now!” she said. “It was really hard to read a bill when we started, but they helped us break it down so we could understand. There are so many rules in the legislative debate process – for example, you have to talk through the Speaker, or you’ll be called out of order! It feels like the world doesn’t showcase the Hispanic culture, so as kids, sometimes we don’t feel it’s important. This program really showed us that our culture matters. It helped show us that we should be open minded and be comfortable with ourselves.”
Puerto Rican and Hispanic students who are interested in participating in next year’s PRHYLI Institute should contact their school counselor – juniors and seniors are encouraged to apply. We’re proud of these students for becoming #SCSDCivicReady while celebrating their heritage!
Anthony Q. Davis, Superintendent
725 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
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