Empowering Students to Become Leaders

2017 Syracuse PR/HYLI Delegation in Albany. Edward Marte, Namirely Pizarro, Greichalyz Rivera, Henrique DeLemos, Geriane Irizarry, Ilan Mizrachi, Charles Thomson, Alisandra Torres, Ashmir Zephyr Sanchez, Itamar Almanzar Perez, Karla Garcia, Naysha Rios, Omarys Rodriguez, Aruasy Barrios, Milton Estevez, Ruth Rodriguez, Gerson Casimiro-Elías.

On March 27, 2017, a bus filled with 17 sleeping juniors and seniors from districts across the Central New York region; including Syracuse, Binghamton, Utica, Ithaca, Solvay, and Whitney Point, made its way back to Syracuse from Albany. Besides the fact that they’re teenagers, what else could have made these students so exhausted? How about three days of waking up before 7:00 am and working nonstop until midnight! Despite the lack of sleep and overworked brains, the first thing out of their mouths as we said goodbye in Syracuse was, “I can’t wait till it starts again next year!”

These words were spoken by the students of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PR/HYLI) Syracuse delegation. Every year, Mid-State RBERN at OCM BOCES leads the Syracuse delegation in 5 training sessions, teaching Hispanic/Latino students about leadership, how to become leaders, and how to research, write, and debate arguments for four Legislative Bills. These sessions prepared students for the culminating event, a three day weekend in Albany at the Legislative Chambers, where they participated in a mock assembly.

Milton and Henrique presenting their cultural identity in media project.

This was my first year being a part of the training team from beginning to end. I must say, the mock assembly they participate in is quite impressive! However, it’s the students’ personal transformation that I found to be the most impressive of all. Our first training session was held on January 13, 2017. A majority of our students barely spoke during that first day- fast forward to March 26, and they’re standing up presenting their arguments to over 200 students and adults. Following the mock assembly, a dance was held for the students. Let me tell you, it was our shyest students that we couldn’t pull off the dance floor!

This weekend was about more than a mock assembly though; it was about honoring students’ culture and giving them a platform to express their fears, challenges, and strengths. Students expressed themselves by working in groups to perform a dance, song, or create a mural. Our Newcomer student, who didn’t speak much during our 5 sessions, wrote and performed a rap entirely in Spanish in front of 75 of his peers! Our students walked away from this weekend with friends from around New York State and an even closer bond with each other.

Students preparing for the mock assembly at the Onondaga Legislative Chambers.

Now I can’t conclude this blog without bragging a bit more about some of our students. Edward Marte from Binghamton High School, who was part of our program for two years, won a $1,000 scholarship for his essay! He will be attending SUNY Broome in the fall. Henrique DeLemos from Ithaca High School, who was minority whip during the mock assembly, never sat down. He ran around that assembly gathering arguments and assisting his party’s representatives. Finally, Ruth Rodriguez and Aruasy Barrios from Solvay High School gave the opening remarks that kicked off the weekend Institute. Ruth spoke from her heart about the positive impact PR/HYLI has had on her life, and Aruasy interpreted her words into sign language.

I am very proud of each and every one of our students this year for all that they accomplished and gained from this experience. In the words of our students, “I can’t wait till it starts again next year!”

Sara Peters
Resource Specialist
Mid-State RBERN (Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network)

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