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First Generation Everything

Jayron Sandoval Sola and Mariana Miguel Mendez, juniors at Brewster High School, were accepted into the prestigious Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Program. 

The program, a yearlong leadership and civic development program for Hispanic Youth meant to empower and develop student leaders, culminated last weekend in Albany. 


Two hundred and fifty students representing 136 high schools from all over New York State went to Albany to participate in the 33rd annual event, which included team building exercises in English and Spanish and leadership workshops that involved forms of art and expression, including poetry, dance and acting. It ended in a mock assembly held in the New York State Capital. The theme was The Art of Democracy.


We are “first generation everything” said Jayron, “So of course, our parents are proud of us. I feel like this was a way for us to express ourselves and pay forward everything our ancestors did for us and sacrificed for us.”


The program started with day trips to Manhattanville, Vassar, and SUNY New Paltz where students from the Hudson Valley delegation got together to debate bills as if they were the representatives from their district. They were asked to do research on bills, write statements, and make arguments following parliamentary procedure. They also got an inside peek into college life with tours, admissions sessions and meals in the cafeteria.


“If we spoke out of turn or didn't address the speaker in the proper manner, someone might say ‘out of order’ and that would be it,” explained Mariana, “I am a shy person and it was definitely hard for me to get out of my comfort zone. One of the highlights was in a group session we had to argue what democracy meant to us. There were so many different students but we felt so united and strong when we all came together to define democracy.”


Albany was not a foregone conclusion–only a select group of students went based upon participation and involvement in the group sessions. Jayron and Marianna were two of only forty students selected from Hudson Valley to attend the all-expenses-paid three-day weekend in Albany. 


“We listened to inspirational speakers,” said Jayron,”including U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro who wrote a book about Latin heroes, which he gave to us. He told us to speak up and act. No one expects Hispanics to achieve. Just look at the statistics. But he said to prove everyone wrong by succeeding. We can do it if we want it and if we are good people.”


Students spent 2.5 hours on the floor of the assembly debating a bill on detention centers. They sat in their Representative’s actual chair and made arguments for and against. The speeches that were the most compelling had a personal twist.

“Some students had seen firsthand the conditions at detention centers so they could speak personally. Those were the most persuasive arguments,” explained Marianna.


Brewster K-12 ELL & Bilingual Specialist Jaimie Dini, accompanied the students.


“The goal was always to get to Albany, and Jayron and Marianna did it,” Dini said. “They were always participating and involved. It was awesome to be able to see them do so well. After a gap due to COVID, we are lucky and thankful to Principal Horler for supporting this program.”


The program taught me to be proud of my heritage. That having a last name like Vasquez, Sanchez, and Sandoval is a gift and something to be proud of,” said Jayron.