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Community Spotlight: Scholars Latino Initiative

Published: Mar. 28, 2022 at 11:11 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - For 10 years, the Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has been helping create opportunities for students at Harrisonburg High School.

The organization has several locations in Virginia made up of a group of outstanding students looking to further their education after high school.

“We have a program in Winchester with Handley High School, and we have a program at the University of Richmond that serves a number of different schools,” Carlos Alemán, Program Director for Harrisonburg SLI, said. “What’s unique about these programs is each school is, I would say, community responsive. The needs of Harrisonburg, the needs of Winchester and the needs of Richmond are all very different.”

Students who want to be a part of SLI first have to go through an application process. They’re recommended by teachers at their school, and then they have to write essays and interview with a selection committee. Only a limited number are selected each year. There are 24 students in SLI this year at Harrisonburg High School.

“All of the students, though, that are selected to be SLI are considered, what we would consider to be under-resourced. That could mean a number of things. That could be financially, that could mean family, that could mean even educationally,” Alemán said.

But through academic, mentorship and service-learning opportunities, students are given the chance for continuous growth. And they become equipped with skills that make them stand out.

“By the time they graduate, if they’ve been in the program for three years, they will have completed 300 hours of service leadership, which makes them impressive candidates for any college,” Alemán said.

Right now, scholars are preparing for an immigrant storytelling workshop where they will be having conversations with adults about their experiences as an immigrant.

This is something Alemán said is an important part of building community, but it’s also the students’ responsibility as leaders.

“To be part of building that sense of identity, building that sense of leadership not only in the community but at the high school,” Alemán said.

As the school year starts to wind down, students are seeing all their hard work pay off.

“There’s absolutely nothing better than working with students and instead of saying, ‘here’s the one choice you have,’ putting all of the options on the table,” Alemán said.

Those are options that are in reach because of growing local support.

“They see the need. They see the outcome, they see the value of investing in the students because they know that investment is an investment in the community,” Alemán explained.

And the money donated to the organization helps the scholars chasing their dreams.

“The award packages that we’re able to give to students to help support their college programming, to support even their tuition costs with community colleges, to support their computers has, I think, we’ve tripled. We’ve been tripling now for the past couple of years,” Alemán said.

The community is invited to reach out to Scholars Latino Initiative for ideas on new service-learning opportunities or networking experiences for students. You can visit their website vasli.org.

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