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SOMOS Conference makes Late Assemblyman’s Angelo Del Toro’s Vision a Reality for New York State Hispanic/Latino Youth
Each year, hundreds of Hispanic/Latino students from high schools across New York State travel to Albany for a firsthand look at New York State’s legislative process. The trip may be the culmination of a yearlong leadership program for high school students across New York, but it will not be the end of their journey. Many will continue to grow as leaders in their high schools, colleges, communities and beyond.
The Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican Hispanic/Youth Leadership Institute (PR/HYLI) has been in existence since 1990 and was dedicated to the memory of the Honorable Angelo Del Toro in 1995. Assemblyman Del Toro is the reason behind the ideals and determination that bring students from across New York State together in Albany each year. “The point of this conference is to say to you that you can do it too….you can influence public policies and state policies…” (Angelo Del Toro, 1991).
Thousands of students have since gone through the program at their local sites while roughly 6,000 students have attended the weekend Institute in Albany. The Institute is a collaborative effort among the New York State Puerto Rican Hispanic Task Force, the New York State Education Department, Questar III BOCES, Somos El Futuro, Inc., and The New York City Department of Education. The purpose of PR/HYLI is to:
The Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute has three phases. The first phase consists of trainings in regional delegations. School districts and community agencies are contacted and students are nominated by the school or other agency to participate in the training. Qualifications for nomination include leadership potential, good academic standing and interest in participating in training activities. Final selection for the Institute is based on the ability to participate in group process, attendance and active participation at the local training meetings.
The trainings consists of sessions addressing the modules in the PR/HYLI manual such as Team-building, Leadership, PR/HYLI History, Communication/ Public Speaking, How a Bill Becomes Law, PR/HYLI Parliamentary Mock Assembly Procedures, Analysis/ Study of Bills, Culture, Identifying Community Issues, Knowing Your Representatives, Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay for PR/HYLI, Debating/Forensics – Party Affiliation/Views, Understanding Specialty Roles and Practice Sessions.
The second phase is participation in the 3-day Puerto Rican Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute. This phase consist of Team-building activities at a designated location where students from across New York State come together and begin the Institute with a series of ice breakers, research and presentations on issues that affect their communities.
This phase includes a legislative mock session where students take over the New York State Assembly chambers to debate actual bills impacting their communities. Past bills have included accelerated graduation options, identity theft, and the need for prescriptions to be translated into other languages.
Other activities that occur during the weekend Institute include a student delegate recognition dinner where 20 scholarships awards are presented by SOMOS Inc., http://somosnewyork.org/education-center/adt-institute/.
In addition, the Institute provides college career development workshops and specialized workshops by authors and panel presentations by PR/HYLI alumni.
The final phase of this program consists of extension and refinement of leadership skills.
The impact of this program on individual students is a lifelong changing experience.
Many students who have gone through the program have made Angelo Del Toro’s vision a reality. We had the opportunity of interviewing an alumnus recently; past participant Santiago Vallinas, who says that “The Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PR/HYLI) forever changed his life…”
“Growing up in the Capital Region as one of the few Latino students in my school, it was at times difficult to find other students with which I could truly relate. The PR/HYLI program not only provided me an opportunity to meet other students with similar interests, but also to explore our collective heritage and gain a better understanding of the issues affecting the Latino community,” said Vallinas.
A 2003 graduate of Colonie High School, Vallinas participated in PR/HYLI for four years. He credits the program for awaking a passion for public service – a career he pursued after earning a bachelor’s degree in government and Spanish from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree in business and government from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Today, Vallinas is an analyst for the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, DC, where he analyzes the fiscal impact of proposed legislation relating to federal pay and income security.
We also had an opportunity of speaking to his mother about the impact of this program on his son. Maritza Ramirez Vallinas calls PR/HYLI: “… the turning point in his life…”
“It showed him how to grow into someone who can think and come to his own conclusions. He discovered that he had something to say and that he had a future. He wanted to be the voice of his community.”
PR/HYLI is giving a voice to a new generation of Hispanic/Latino leaders.
Questar III BOCES Assistant Superintendent Gladys Cruz who has been associated with the program for close to two decades, said PR/HYLI continues the work of the late Angelo Del Toro, a member of the New York State Assembly who died in 1994. Del Toro was influential in helping Hispanic youth understand their civic duty and encouraging them to give back to their communities – one of the goals of the program bearing his name.
“This program provides Hispanic/Latino youth with an opportunity to learn about the political process in our state and develop the necessary leadership skills to become productive citizens. It fosters connections and skills that last a lifetime – and opens up students to the possibilities that exist after high school,” said Cruz.
PR/HYLI’s curriculum supports the New York State ELA/Literacy Standards, Social Studies Standards and the New York State Participation in Government Core Curriculum. Cruz said the program also supports the Common Core Learning Standards as participants must research, do “close readings” of current bills and build text-based arguments to debate bills at the mock assembly.
Alumni credit the program’s curriculum and interaction with adults for challenging them to succeed.
“PR/HYLI changed my life completely. It gave me the opportunity to meet incredible people who helped me know more about myself and are role models in my life,” said Michelle Vilaprimo-Gonzalez, a 2004-2005 student delegate.
Others describe how they felt empowered after leaving the New York State Capitol.
“After participating in the program my junior year, I developed the first Hispanic Heritage Month Event in my high school to highlight our culture to non-Hispanic students. The PR/HYLI influence rolled over into college where I became a Latino leader on campus,” said Jonathan D. Hernandez, a 2002-2003 student delegate.
Questar III BOCES coordinates the leadership institute as part of a five-year contract awarded by the New York State Education Department
“Angelo Del Toro was an inspiration, and his memory continues to inspire the thousands of Hispanic Students who take part in the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute. These young students are passionate about their communities and the political process and I look forward to seeing these individuals elected to office in the near future.”
-Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz, Chair, New York State Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force
Students from different student delegations will meet with members of the New York State Legislature, New York State Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force and the New York State Education Department. For more information on this program, please visit www.prhyli.org.
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