ESL students attend annual PR/HYLI in Albany: Senior Bryan Vasquez and junior Luis Rojas learn about NYS legislative procedures

Emily Ma and Rebecca Muratore

From March 25 to March 27, senior Bryan Vasquez and junior Luis Rojas attended the Angel Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PR/HYLI) in Albany.  This conference is a collaboration between numerous New York agencies, including YS Assembly, Senate Puerto Rican, Hispanic Task Force, Office of Bilingual Education and World Languages, and the New York State City Board of Education.

Founded in 1987, PR/HYLI is the largest gathering of Puerto Rican/Hispanic civic and political leaders in the state.  With over three million Latinos/Hispanics in New York, the conference serves to discuss important legislatives issues that pertain to these ethnicities at the state level.

“I learned a lot from this experience,” said senior Bryan Vasquez. “It felt great being able to sit amount assembly members and debate bills to favor the hispanic community.”

The overall goal of PR/HYLI is to empower students.  For each delegate at the Leadership Institute, PR/HYLI hopes to develop leadership skills in Hispanic and Latino youth, create partnerships between educators, develop knowledge of the state legislative process, and create opportunities for students to interact with positive roles models such as Puerto Rican/Latino elected officials, educators, and business leaders.

The point of this conference is to say to you that you can do it too,” said founder Angelo del Toro in an archived 1991 interview.  “You can influence public policies and state policies.  You can influence how the government and how society goes on.  And that’s very important.”

On March 9, Vasquez and Rojas met with Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso to discuss some bills that are currently being debated in Albany.  During the conference, both students took the role of D’Urso and debated from his perspective.  Some of the bills include topics of immigration, police brutality, and racial profiling.

“I think the most important lesson student participants take away from the Institute is the realization that we all have a civic duty to participate in government,” said ESL teacher Mr. John Davis.

PR/HYLI consists of three primary phases.  Prior to the conference in Albany, students received training in their regional delegations, which consisted of researching local issues and learning about the New York State legislative process.

Then, over the course of the three days of the conference, students participated in activities such as a Mock Assembly session in the NYS Assembly chamber, team-building activities that fostered collaboration between the eight regional delegations in attendance, and workshops in areas such as college preparation and career development.

There will also be a scholarship awarded to seniors participating in PR/HYLI.  The organization looks to give the scholarship to qualified members who show strong leadership roles in the Hispanic/Latino community.  A student recognition dinner will be to announce the winners of awards such as the PR/HYLI scholarship.

In the third phase of PR/HYLI, student delegates are expected to return home to refine their leadership skills and put what they have learned into practice in their local communities.

“Change comes only through action; the PR/HYLI empowers high school students to take action,” said Davis.