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Spring programming at SLI sites include a variety of opportunities, events

SLI programming this spring included unique opportunities at each of its sites, with students experiencing a variety of events including college visits, guest speakers, and more. 

“Accessing college is no small task,” said Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., SLI board chair and associate dean of James Madison University Honors College. “SLI is proud to support its remarkable scholars as they pursue the higher education they so keenly desire and merit.”

SLI’s mission is to support Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. SLI is a community-based, not-for-profit organization built on partnerships with high schools, universities, communities, students, and parents in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester. Dedicated to advancing Latinx students’ post-high school educational opportunities, SLI advocates for Latinx opportunities and strives for social justice and equity. Scholars – currently there are 67 – are mentored to be leaders that positively contribute to their communities. 

Through collaborations with university and high school staff, faculty, and students, SLI provides college access opportunities throughout high school. In addition, its scholars can become eligible for financial support for college success, which since 2012 has included more than $542,000 in college scholarships, technology awards, and dual enrollment and AP course tuition assistance.


SLI program directors Hannah Bowman Hrasky, a teacher at Harrisonburg High School, and Carlos Alemán, Ph.D., a professor at James Madison University, develop and coordinate academic, leadership, and mentorship activities for the SLI scholars in Harrisonburg. SLI Early College is one program where students meet twice monthly after school for college planning updates, reflective writing exercises, and college-level discussions. This spring, student teams researched Latina girlhood as represented in mass media targeting audiences ages 10-14 years.

SLI on Saturday is another program, with monthly gatherings held on the JMU campus and built around themes of community and civic engagement, cultural identity and empowerment, and healthy relationships and well-being. The April meeting (pictured below) invited the JMU student organization, SLI Mentors, to present a Women’s History Month-centered program. Activities promoted empowerment and solidarity for Latinx women, a crash course on intersectionality, and writing letters of appreciation to inspiring women in the students’ lives.

Several ad hoc events in April were also developed to meet student needs and interests. SLI partnered with the NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center to host an exclusive workshop featuring immigration attorney Steven Smith and social work intern Catalina Marquez, who provided information and answered questions about family petitions to scholars and their parents. Many scholars also participated in a “shadow day” organized and hosted by SLI Mentors that included attending classes with college mentors, major-specific guided campus tours, visiting student support spaces, meeting with professors, and experiencing a typical college day. Finally, scholars served their community by volunteering at La Fiesta, an annual food and game fair for children and families of Smithland Elementary School.


SLI in Richmond is led by SLI founder Peter Iver Kaufman, Ph.D., a professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, and Huguenot High School teacher Ester Orellana. University students act as mentors of the SLI high school students, routinely offering mentor-mentee bonding activities.

In March nine high school freshmen were welcomed as Richmond SLI’s newest cohort at an induction gathering of approximately 80 that included all current SLI scholars, family members, and guest speakers Ricardo Jofre and Kathryn Perez, an alumna of SLI in North Carolina. In April, scholars and their families gathered for a graduation celebration (pictured below), which included a speech by SLI alumnus Israel (pictured below with Kaufman). The event will be further featured in an upcoming news release.

Early College programming featured readings about the history of Palestine and the current crisis in Gaza, with essays to come this summer. Richmond SLI alumni have described the required academic writing for Early College as a “crazy” amount of work but “worth it, definitely” – and helpful for both high school and college success.

“‘Wow!’” SLI alumnus Ariel (pictured below, left) said he realized in his first writing class in college. “I could tell, seeing my other peers, that I was pretty much ahead of them because of SLI.”


John Handley High School counselors Lara Maquera and Elizabeth Cranford are the SLI program directors in Winchester, where this spring SLI scholars worked on College 101 Workbooks and shared research about colleges they are considering attending. 

Guest speakers included Shenandoah University admissions director Calyn Lutz, who shared practical information about the college application process, and Valley Health hiring manager Lisa Spencer, who discussed academic and training paths that can lead to careers in the medical field. 

SLI has “allowed me to get a feel for what to expect in college,” SLI scholar Mario (pictured below) said in a feature about SLI in the March issue of Cooperative Living Magazine. “Honestly, I would be lost [without it] because SLI has helped me visit different types of colleges and meetings related to programs offered.”

The program was highlighted during the Winchester SLI Meet & Greet (also pictured) at Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant and Bakery on April 19. Sponsored by Laurel Ridge Community College, Valley Health, and First Bank, the event provided opportunities to meet SLI scholars and alumni, board members, donors, and other community members.