A decade ago, Cintia Aguilar and Dr. Andrew Behnke joined forces to develop the Juntos Program at NC State University to help Latino students achieve high school graduation and attend higher education. Today, after 10 years, the Juntos program continues to impact hundreds of youth across NC and across the country through family engagement, 4-H clubs, success coaching and mentoring, and summer academy.
This year, Juntos held its 8th annual Summer Academy at North Carolina State University from June 12th – June 16th, 2017. Dr. Richard Bonanno, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the director of North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, welcomed the rising 9th to 12th grade Juntos 4-Hers and team captains (college student counselors) that participated in the week-long college experience. The keynote speakers included Student Body President Jacqueline Gonzalez and Student Body Vice President Mia Connell. Both Gonzalez and Connell, the first Latinx individuals and the first Latinx women to serve at their respective positions, spoke to the students about embracing their culture and aspirations even in the face of opposition. The 89 high school students represented seven NC counties including Catawba, Wake, Wayne, Forsyth, Sampson, Pender, and Yadkin. Based on the theme “Juntos We Embrace,” the Latino youth were given opportunities to explore higher education and various career opportunities through hands-on classes, structured activities, and panels that encouraged them to embrace educational goals. The students were able to attend classes pertaining to leadership, paying for college, preparing for college, air pollution and environmental careers, worms and micro-fluids, and soil. The students also had the opportunity to attend a College Fair in which 18 colleges and universities participated. Students had the opportunity to hear a College Student Panel and Professional Panel. The students learned about the need for self-enrichment through embracing personal wellness and academic growth in self-esteem, writing, and identity workshops and through physical activities like zumba, soccer, and low rope courses. The Talent Show also allowed students to embrace what makes them unique, ending the night with the Dance to celebrate. Lastly, the students reflected on their raices (roots) and focused on the importance of embracing their identity primarily through writing, art, and discussion. This year’s art project, led by professional artist Carlyn Wright-Eakes, involved students creating individual maps of who they are in the present and where they want to go in the future, as well as creating visual representations of issues in their community and how they can work together to solve them. We closed the week with keynote speaker Hector Vilchis, corporate vice president of New York Life Insurance Company, who spoke about his personal journey and shared the key steps to personal success. Because Juntos is 100% grant-funded, not all Juntos 4-Hers are able to participate in Summer Academy. Those who cannot attend have the opportunity to participate in local 4-H programming and other summer camps that are offered in their communities.
Author: Kayla Perry
Additional coverage conducted by WRAL-TV.