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    Harrisonburg SLI scholars provide face painting and fun at el Festival Hispano

    In what has become a tradition, the 2023 Hispanic Festival in Harrisonburg featured face painting a fun provided by SLI scholars.

    Since 2018, SLI scholars from Harrisonburg High School have offered leadership and service at Harrisonburg’s Festival Hispano by hosting the children’s play, arts, and crafts center. Participating SLI scholars included rising juniors and seniors Abygail, Amy, Angely, Aylen, Eiby, Javier, Kevin, Natalie, and Nayaly. They were led by SLI program directors Carlos Alemán, associate professor of communication studies at JMU, and Hannah Bowman Hrasky, an English teacher at HHS.

    Held by Comite Salvadoreno Paisanos Unidos (COSPU), the festival also included live performances of Latino music and folk dance, authentic Latino cuisine, and exhibits showcasing talented Hispanic artists. COSPU’s goal is to empower immigrant families through support, and the advocacy of changes that benefits immigrants.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Ariana, SLI scholar

    Ariana (John Handley High School/Millbrook High School ’23) plans to attend Laurel Ridge Community College and become a teacher.

    How did you decide to become a teacher?

    In one of my teaching classes, Teachers for Tomorrow, we had to go spend 40 hours in a classroom. It definitely made me realize that that’s what I wanted to do.

    How does it feel to be finished with high school?

    I was so excited for graduation, but I was so sad because I was like, “Well, now I have to adult. Like, that’s a thing now. I gotta move on.” Then it clicked in my head and I was like, “Wait, I just graduated. Like, you’re done with high school.” That’s weird.

    What would you like to tell about your family?

    I grew up here. I was born here. My mom grew up in Hagerstown, Maryland. My dad immigrated from Mexico, and then same thing with my stepmom. So definitely like we get a little bit of every piece.

    I have two older siblings. One lives on her own and she has her own little family, and then I have an older brother and he’s a full-time college student, and then I have my stepsister, my little sister, another brother, and then I have a younger brother who’s gonna go into kindergarten.

    What have you learned about yourself as you’ve prepared for college?

    It’s difficult being a first gen [college student], your parents not knowing the college process or anything like that, and seeking ways to find help or get the help that’s needed to go through college, or find those resources.

    I think I definitely learned to go for it. Realize that you’ve done a lot already so you will continue doing great things. Seeing myself now and then seeing my younger self is just like, “You did it. You can keep doing it.”

    I’m a big role model for my younger siblings, so I’m hoping that they can see my footsteps and maybe follow into them, or even do better things.

    I always think life’s a plant: You’re that one seed at one point in life, and you’re like never gonna stop growing. You’re not gonna always be perfect, but perfectly imperfect.

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    All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Gedalia, SLI scholar: “It quickly struck me that I could one day be the help this elderly man needed”

    Gedalia (John Handley High School ’22) is pursuing a nursing degree at Old Dominion University

    How did you decide to study nursing?

    I decided to study nursing when I took my first trip to Guatemala in 2018. I noticed the lack of healthcare in Guatemala’s communities. I was shocked to see an elderly blind man begging for money, and I thought to myself, “How could this elderly man be on the streets?” It quickly struck me that I could one day be the help this elderly man needed. Although I knew it was impossible to help him specifically, I could help others in similar situations. 

    My parents have always taught me to do everything for God and to do it in a passionate way. Pursuing nursing has given me a sense of purpose. I feel that this is what I am meant to do because I will have the opportunity to help God’s children.

    Where do you see yourself working after graduation?

    I will definitely be working with the company I am right now because they help individuals with disabilities. I believe individuals with disabilities deserve the same care as anyone else. My job has taught me many things, but the most important thing is this: a disability should not define anybody. I love my job because it allows me to passionately help and serve elderly individuals with disabilities.

    As a pre-nursing major, I am studying for the Health Education Systems Incorporated exam in my free time. I am also taking medical technician classes with the company I work for, in order to further my education and ability to serve my residents.

    What have been some highlights of college so far?

    I have enjoyed meeting new people and trying new cultural foods, joining clubs that share my interests, culture, and education, and strengthening my relationship with God. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people from other countries, including some exchange students from Japan, and they gave me a different outlook on my college life. For them, it was difficult, as language was a barrier. It made me appreciate my own experience a bit more.

    Are there particular people who have encouraged you?

    My parents have definitely encouraged me to pursue a higher education and have always pushed me to chase any open opportunities. I am the first in my family to go to college, making it really difficult for me to adjust to college. I’ve had to learn everything on my own, but I’ve gained a lot from it.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Jimena, SLI scholar and future congresswoman

    WINCHESTER, VA – SLI scholar Jimena graduated from John Handley High School in 2023 with plans to attend Dickinson College.

    How does it feel to be finished with high school and about to go to college?

    Graduating from high school was a surreal experience for me, especially since I was the first in my family to accomplish this achievement. While I’ll miss my parents and sisters, I am excited to start college as summer comes to an end.

    Are there particular people who have helped you reach this achievement and encouraged you to go to college?

    My graduation was possible not only because of my personal efforts and commitment, but also thanks to my parents’ unwavering support. They backed me up in every decision I made for my education, and their encouragement is one of the driving forces behind my desire to attend college. My goal is to receive a superior education compared to what my parents were able to obtain in Mexico. They have given me a better life, and I aspire to make the most of this opportunity so that one day I can repay them with the life they truly deserve.

    What do you plan to study at Dickinson College? Do you have a career in mind?

    I plan to study political science. I’m almost 98% certain I want to become a congresswoman, but I’m still deciding what career path I will take in the future. 

    How did you reach that career idea?

    As a member of the John Handley High School Speech & Debate Team for three years, I participated in mock congressional debates in different leagues. While researching for these competitions, I learned about problems in the United States that adversely affect minority groups, including unequal access to healthcare and human rights violations. This led me to develop a passion for advocating for these individuals who often feel voiceless and ignored. I want to be their voice, and I believe that becoming one of the few Latinas in Congress could help bring about the necessary change to support them.

    What have been some highlights of your high school years?

    Throughout my high school years I had the privilege of being a part of Latinos Unidos, a club that celebrates Hispanic culture. In fact, it was one of the most memorable highlights of my high school experience. I was a member of this club for four years and held leadership positions for three of them. Being part of this club helped me to embrace my identity as a Latina and allowed me to be myself without fear of judgment. I owe this to the support of my cosponsors, Mrs. Escalante and Mrs. Espinoza, who also served as SLI program directors. One event that stands out in my mind was the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month during the fall of 2022, which involved trivia, an assembly filled with music, dance, poems, and singers, and a community party. The traditions and values upheld in a Hispanic family are reflected in this club, and I am proud to have been a part of it. It feels like a second family to me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to it in any way I could.

  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg,  Scholar Features

    Meet Keiry, SLI scholar

    As she nears her first year of college, SLI scholar Keiry (Harrisonburg High School ’23, University of Virginia ’25) talks about how she’s grown as a person over the last four years. At UVA she will study political science on a pre-law track.

    Congrats on graduating from high school! How are you feeling about going to college?

    When I first started SLI I was like I know I want to go to college. We went through the steps. [SLI program directors] Dr. Alemán and Ms. Bowman helped me through it. Whenever anything came up, I could go to Wednesday SLI or I could go to Saturday SLI and I could be like, “Hey, this is happening.” 

    I love meeting new people. I love talking to new people. And I love school. That is my biggest goal: becoming super involved with the campus my first year. 

    It’s going to be a whole new environment. I’ve been to UVA, I’ve toured the campus, but it’s not the same as living there and being a full-time student there. That’s definitely scary to think about because I’m not even going to be in – like my family’s here. This will be the first time [living away from my family]. 

    What do you plan to study?

    Already getting my associate degree before graduating from high school has definitely helped because it puts me a little bit ahead of my class, since I already got my gen-eds out of the way. I’m studying political science under the pre-law track. Right now I’m kind of set on immigration law. As an immigrant myself, it feels like I have to give back, especially with how much support my own community has given me now. 

    How have you grown as a person over the last few years?

    When I think back to my freshman self I think back to a girl that was scared, honestly. I was so shy. 

    One thing that really helped with SLI is that Dr. Alemán involves you. He’ll ask you questions directly, and he’ll put you on the spot, and while at first that was terrifying – I was like, “Why would you do that to me? I’m so shy!” – but now as I look back it definitely helped because it took me out of my shell. 

    All of the junior SLI were able to plan and host a social event where everyone else – all the mentors from JMU and all the younger students – could come. That was the first time I’ve ever been put in a leadership position without any interference from a teacher. Ever since then whenever there’s anything that needs to be taken charge of, I’m there, and I’ll do it. It doesn’t matter, put me there and I’ll do it, I’ll figure it out. If you would have done that to me my freshman year, I would have panicked. I would have been like, “I can’t do it, give it to someone else. I can’t do it.”

    I think the biggest change about me that I’ve seen is how much into myself I’ve grown, how much into a leader – and the confidence I’ve grown in the past four years.

    What are some other ways SLI has supported you?

    We would have social events where Dr. Alemán would be like, “This is your time to network, to talk to people that may help you in the future, could help you.” 

    I got to interact with so many professors. I got to know this professor that teaches law and he was just telling me, “If you ever need help, here’s my email.” Now I have these different people that I can go to if something were to arise. 

    Do you think your siblings will go to college, too?

    I know that my parents do have aspirations that both of my brothers do end up going to college, especially since I’ve paved the way and I can help them in retrospect. In the future, when they apply to college, and when they’re going through high school, I can be like, “Hey, do this, do that. Don’t make the same mistakes I made.”

    I think it’s really important finding out who I am. Obviously I’m not going to know for sure for sure, like I have a good idea of who I am and who the person I’ve become is, but I know that as time goes my frontal lobe is going to develop. I’m going to obviously mature a lot more. Even if I think I’m mature now, I know in a few years I’m going to look back and be like, “Why did you do that?” I think that’s definitely a part of growing, and seeing who you become. 

    Who is someone who has encouraged you?

    Someone who definitely helped me and pushed me was [my high school counselor] Ms. Weaver. Every time that I felt like I simply could not do it, I would go talk to Ms. Weaver and she would be like, “Well, you can. You’re already here. You can continue. You’ve been doing it for the past three years.” I know I went to Ms. Weaver so many times throughout like my junior and my senior year. 

    How are college finances looking for you?

    Even with scholarships I still have to pay some of the money for UVA out of pocket. It’s a manageable amount, so obviously I don’t want to get a loan out, because I know paying that off is going to take a while. I’ve heard people be like, “Yeah I got a loan for college and I’m still paying it off and I’m in my 40s right now,” and I’m like, “No.” 

    I know for my first year I have enough to cover a lot of it, like I can pay half of it my first semester, and then continue working and pay the rest of it off my second semester. 

    I know that I’m going to make my education worth it, if I have the money to go. I appreciate my community so much for everything that they do and like everything that they offer to us.

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    Partnership awards $1,000 scholarship to “make a difference” for future doctor

    Pictured above: Sacred Heart Center College & Career-Bound Program graduate Jasmin is presented a scholarship check by SHC director of programs Carolina Lugo and Lyons Sanchezconcha, chair of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board.

    RICHMOND, VA – Jasmin, a graduating senior of the Sacred Heart Center (SHC) College & Career-Bound Program and future medical doctor, has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship sponsored by Canastas Chicken Restaurants, SHC, Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI), and SLI advisory council members Amelia Castañeda and Lyons Sanchezconcha. 

    “My parents have always told me that education is key, and that with education so many doors open up for the future,” Jasmin wrote in her scholarship application. “Since I was little I knew I wanted to become a doctor. I want to keep on learning and filling my mind with knowledge for these next four years, and eventually apply to medical school.”

    Jasmin, who graduated from Hermitage High School this spring and will be the first in her family to attend college, will begin studies at Virginia Commonwealth University this fall.

    “There are moments where my commitment and motivation to achieve my dream career go down because my dream career is something no one in my family has done,” she wrote. “This scholarship will make a difference for me by helping me get closer to becoming a doctor and allowing my parents not to worry so much about the money and how much it will cost for me to achieve my goals.”

    The third-annual scholarship for College & Career-Bound Program graduates was sponsored by:

    • Canastas Chicken Restaurants, which has locations in Glen Allen, Richmond, and Henrico; 
    • Sacred Heart Center, which supports Latinos in Richmond through programs such as adult education, family literacy, citizenship classes, and more; 
    • Scholars Latino Initiative, which supports Latinx high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships; 
    • Amelia Castañeda, Welcome Center and family advocacy coordinator at Richmond Public Schools and member of the SLI Advisory Council; and
    • Lyons Sanchezconcha, chair of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board, president of the Virginia College Access Network, vice-principal at Huguenot High School in Richmond, and member of the SLI Advisory Council.
  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg,  SLI News,  Winchester

    SLI scholar high school graduates announce college plans

    Twelve SLI scholars have graduated from high school this spring and announced their fall college plans, bringing the total number of SLI alumni to 113.

    Four SLI scholars graduated from Winchester-area high schools this year and are pictured above (left to right): Axel (who plans to attend Harvard University; vasli.org/axel), Yeyhlin (Hollins University; vasli.org/yeyhlin), and Jimena (Dickinson College; vasli.org/jimena) from John Handley High School, and Ariana (Laurel Ridge Community College; vasli.org/ariana) from Millbrook High School.

    Eight SLI scholars graduated from Harrisonburg High School and are pictured below: Hillary (University of Virginia), Ariana (UVA), Andrea (Eastern Mennonite University), Kristy (UVA), Lindsey (Blue Ridge Community College), Naomi (James Madison University), Keiry (UVA; vasli.org/keiry), and Helen (Virginia Tech).

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    Harrisonburg SLI photo roundup: April-May, 2023

    Among other activities this spring, SLI in Harrisonburg participated in the JMU Latinx Student Alliance Celebración Latina plus celebrated its graduating scholars with a potluck and piñata.

    Eight SLI scholars graduated from Harrisonburg High School this spring: Hillary (who will attend University of Virginia), Ariana (UVA), Andrea (Eastern Mennonite University), Kristy (UVA), Lindsey (Blue Ridge Community College), Naomi (James Madison University), Keiry (UVA), and Helen (Virginia Tech). In addition, four SLI scholars graduated from Winchester-area high schools.

    SLI activities such as offering arts and crafts during the Comite Salvadoreno Paisanos Unidos Festival Hispano provide valuable leadership and community service opportunities.

    “I think the biggest change about me that I’ve seen is how much into myself I’ve grown, how much into a leader – and the confidence I’ve grown in the past four years,” said Keiry (HHS ’23, UVA ’25) in an interview, recalling a junior-year experience planning a SLI event. “That was the first time I’ve ever been put in a leadership position without any interference from a teacher. Ever since then whenever there’s anything that needs to be taken charge of, I’m there, and I’ll do it.”

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  SLI News,  Winchester

    Meet Axel, SLI scholar: “It’s like going from zero to 100, from my parents having no college to me getting into Harvard with a full ride.”

    An interview with SLI scholar Axel (John Handley High School ’23, Harvard University ’27), whose college plans came together this spring.

    What are you planning to study at Harvard University?

    I plan to concentrate in neuroscience, most likely on the premed track. I’m pretty sure I want to become a doctor – maybe a cardiologist – but I’m keeping an open mind about different specialties.  

    Is anyone in your family working in a medical field? Why neuroscience?

    No, but neuroscience is a good connection between biology and psychology, and is somewhat interesting to me because my grandma had Alzheimer’s before she passed. It’s also cool to see how different cultures behave and see things so differently. The U.S has its own standards and beliefs, but at home in Mexico there’s a whole different set of standards, and there’s this conflict between what’s right and what’s wrong, and what’s offensive and what’s not offensive when it comes to things like eye contact or body language or certain actions.

    Neuroscience goes more into the biology of the brain that can possibly explain how the brain develops differently in different environments. In some of my classes we studied how there’s a prime stage for learning and then after a certain point you can still learn but not as fully as if you had learned it when you were younger. I wonder what else relates to that.

    A hypothesis I have is about polarization, especially with social media and how maybe algorithms give in to confirmation bias and then that just takes society further apart. I wonder if that has any physiological impacts on the brain and could turn people closed-minded.

    What was it like to learn that you were accepted into Harvard with a full ride?

    First I had an interview with a Harvard alumnus. That was extremely nerve-wracking, but I thought it went pretty well. Then a few days later I got an email saying I had a second interview, with my admissions officer. So I was like, “Okay, maybe I have a chance.” That interview went even better, but it was still a surprise when I found out I got in.

    The decision came out around 7 p.m., but I knew I wanted to be with my family to open the application portal message and my sister didn’t get out of work until later. So I waited for her to get home and then my whole family and I got together in my room and opened it. Once I saw “Congratulations” I was like, “I got in!” and then we started hugging each other and celebrating.

    After we finished hugging it out and everything, I set up a login for the second portal, for financial aid, and it was there that I found out that I got a full ride.

    My parents are pretty proud of me because they didn’t get to go to college because they didn’t have the money or the resources in Mexico, and so they brought us here for that. It’s kind of like going from zero to 100, from my parents having no college to me getting into Harvard with a full ride.

    Are you nervous?

    Now? No, I’m excited! Harvard has this event called Visitas towards the end of April for admitted students to get to know campus. I’m pretty excited because I’ll be flying out to Boston on my own, and Harvard’s paying for the plane ticket, too. We get to be hosted by a current student in a dorm for one night, but we don’t get our actual housing assignments until July.

    What do you think made your college application stand out?

    I know that it’s important to view things in a broader context and to have situations of selflessness, of having a purpose and finding something that is a passion. For me that’s advocacy for LGBTQ student rights, which is a matter of human rights.

    I’m the president of the HEROIS club, which stands for Helping Educate Regarding Orientation and Identity on the Spectrum. It’s mainly to help create a safe space for LGBTQ students at Handley, so some of what we do are community building events. I’m also the Winchester chapter lead for the Pride Liberation Project. It’s not school affiliated, but it’s a student-led organization in Virginia that advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights. The main topic in the past year has been rights for trans students. We organized around 100 walkouts across Virginia last September, including at Handley.

    At Harvard they have what’s called the Office of BGLTQ Student Life. I still have more to learn about it, but I’m definitely looking to be involved with that.

    There’s also being well-rounded. I did a number of different things in school: speech, debate, and wrestling, and I was a student rep for the school board along with another student. 

    Wrestling was funny because it kind of surprised people because I don’t seem like the type of person who would wrestle. The pandemic kind of got me to join wrestling because I felt like I needed to get out of my comfort zone, and while I wasn’t good at wrestling, I still made small improvements. And I definitely got out of my comfort zone. 

    Wrestling really pushes you because it’s you and one other person and no one else. It’s kind of a fight for dominance.

    Would you describe yourself as a competitive person?

    No. It’s funny, but no. I lost every single match, but I still kept going. I might have cried sometimes, I might have gotten upset, but I didn’t quit. With other competitions, like with forensics and debate, I mainly just did stuff for fun and didn’t really get too deep into the competition.

    It seemed like every year something always happened where I had to be out for an extended period. The first year I was out for a month because I had to quarantine because my mom had COVID, and then after she had it I had it, so that was like a whole month of being out. Coming back there wasn’t really much left of the season.

    Then my second year of wrestling, my uncle died so I was gone for three weeks because the funeral was out in Arizona. We flew out before we even had a date for the funeral, so we were just there waiting. And then this year I went out again, but just for a vacation to Arizona and Mexico, because my parents were thinking after my uncle died that they only make an effort to go and see family once they’ve passed, and instead they should make an effort to see more family when they’re living.

    So you still have family that you visit in Mexico?

    Yes. It really puts things in perspective, that my parents left their family for us to get an education and they’re still away from their family, and I’m almost ready to graduate. They’re getting older, so they’re talking about when they retire they’re going to go back to Mexico knowing that they did their job: They got us an education, they worked, got us a roof, food, everything.

    When we go to visit Mexico it’s a massive difference, seeing how different they are, overall more happy, so I think it’s really the best for them to retire over there. They’ve been planning renovations to their house. They would sell the house here and then use that money to renovate a house there.

    Do you think you would maybe go back to Mexico at some point?

    I see myself staying mainly because of the violence in Mexico. When we were last there there was the arrest of El Chapo’s son, and that happened the day we were supposed to leave. A bunch of members of the cartel carjacked a bunch of people’s cars, burned them, and blocked streets and everything, so we couldn’t even leave. Before that I was considering going to Mexico every now and then to visit, but now I’m not even sure if I feel safe going there.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  SLI News,  Winchester

    SLI scholar Elly featured as Shenandoah University joins the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities

    SLI is grateful for years of partnership with Shenandoah University, including as described in by SLI scholar Elly (John Handley High School ’16, SU ’20) in an SU article about the university’s joining the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Congratulations SU on joining the HACU and to Elly for her college successes! READ MORE ABOUT ELLY