Four Hoosick Falls Students Accepted for Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute


HOOSICK FALLS — Four high school students from the Hoosick Falls Central School District have been accepted to participate in the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute. Irlanda Hernandez, Maria Munoz, Juan Burgos-Garcia, and Lourdes Colon will attend the Albany three-day Institute in March.

High school juniors and seniors can apply for the annual honor. The institute offers leadership activities and a chance to interact with and learn from Hispanic leaders in business, education, and government. Participants also are given an in-depth look at the state legislative process.

"The institute was created by Angelo Del Toro, a New York assemblyman who wished to support young Latinos and get them engaged in the legislative process," said Gladys Cruz, district superintendent of Questar III, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services that includes the Hoosick Falls School District.

"His wish was to provide Latinos with information and training so they feel comfortable engaging in the political process. Attending the Institute helps Hispanic students to feel proud of who they are and their culture. It inspires many to make a difference in their communities."

To apply, students had to fill out an application, submit their school transcripts, and write an essay in English or Spanish. The essay's topic this year was about the value or nonvalue of using artistic expression as a tool for advancing one's positive ideas and goals.

"I'm very proud of the work they did to apply," said Peg Sharkey, a foreign language teacher at Hoosick Falls High School. "This Leadership Institute really gives them a chance to shine."

Burgos and Munoz wrote about being inspired by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who overcame many physical and other obstacles to be a successful artist. Her unique vision also was enlightened by her Mexican culture and traditions. The two students were impressed by Kahlo's ability to express her personal feelings and opinions — "her own voice"— with passion and strength.

"She did not let her physical condition get in the way of her political activism," wrote Burgos. "Frida's artistic expressions [were] powerful enough to advance her personal, cultural, social, and political aspirations."

Munoz, who wrote her essay in Spanish, spoke of using her own gifts for writing and art to express herself as a Latina leader: "I will use art as Frida did to express myself. I will write things that can put into perspective the life of a Hispanic for someone who is not Hispanic," she translated.

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Colon admires Nicaraguan-American Republican Strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro for providing a voice to the Hispanic/Latino community both in the United States and worldwide. She writes how she respects Navarro for being outspoken about the importance of having a government that "represents the diversity of America."

Hernandez's essay spoke of social media and how the world of Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook have changed the way people communicate and express themselves. Hernandez sees the power in being involved in your local community and being aware of political decisions. She wrote: "I am very passionate about political issues as they will influence our present, future, and possibly [how we see] our past."

"We look for students who show leadership qualities and are inspired to learn," said Cruz.

"Many of the institute's participants later return as trainers or facilitators because they recognize it as a great experience. There is a lot of hands-on learning. They study live bills and debate them, form a mock assembly, and take on the roles of the assembly members. It's a wonderful learning experience that I'm proud to have been involved in for 25 years.

"Sometimes Hispanic students are dealing with challenges such as facing stereotypes about their culture, trying to learn in English when it's their second language, or just feeling additional pressure to prove themselves. The Institute gives them the opportunity to be with hundreds of students from similar backgrounds," Cruz added. "It gives them the chance to relax a little and focus on learning."

The four Hoosick Falls attendees recently discussed the challenges of being a part of a minority culture in the United States. They stressed the need for empathy for people of all nationalities and ethnicities. All of them are looking forward to attending the institute and don't mind the work involved. In addition to the three-day institute, they must attend training sessions on six Saturdays over the next two months.

"We're all looking forward to it," they said in unison.

"It will give us a chance to connect with other Hispanic youth," said Hernandez.

"This will be a chance to gain skills we can use to further our voice," stated Colon.

"At times," said Munoz, "I am not sure that anything I do will make a real difference. The Institute can help me to use my voice to educate others [about what is important to me]."


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