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Ernesto Nieto, LDZ, NHI Programs

LDZ: A Legacy of Preparing Students for Success

student capturing ldz on phone
Posted: September 25, 2020 at 1:21 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

The National Hispanic Institute is in the midst of preparing an online version of its Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session for 2021, to be offered along with classic in-person versions of the program. As NHI embarks on this exciting new phase of creating digital programming for students, it’s gotten us to reflect on how vital the LDZ’s been to NHI. Whether you count the 1982 pilot program at the Texas state capitol or the 1983 Texas state-wide LDZ as the first youth legislative session NHI’s hosted, it’s been a celebrated part of NHI’s legacy.

Legacy’s an important concept for NHIers. In fact, Fundamental #2 in the list of 25 NHI Fundamentals is:

  • TREASURE, PROTECT & PROMOTE OUR LEGACY: As NHI members, we are recognized for and benefit from our proud leadership legacy. Consider how your actions affect our collective reputation. Represent our community well and be a proud ambassador of the organization.

With all this in mind, NHI President and Founder Ernesto Nieto prepared some thoughts on how NHI has helped prepare students for success, and how the LDZ, which co-founder Gloria de Leon brought to life as NHI was being built in the 1980s and 1990s, has been central to that project.

How do parents and schools play active and visible roles in strengthening a student’s prospects for success?

At NHI, we feel that it demands an investor mindset and creative learning experiences that take place outside family and school environments.

We established NHI 41 years ago to fill a need that we determined to be real and crucial. We realized there simply weren’t well-designed learning experiences that were available for Latino high school-age youth in community civic engagement and leadership.

As Gloria observes, civic engagement introduces young people to the outside world, where they learn the basics of working with others to achieve common community aims. Without having a foundation for how democracy works, young people have difficulties in deriving personal meaning from their participation. They disconnect before ever getting started. They may not see engagement as a platform for personal development, creating networks of opportunity for themselves, and developing identity and influence in community life. They miss the point entirely that healthy, progressive communities need individuals like them who learn to assume responsibilities to play key leadership roles. In the end, they move away and forever get lost in the world of work, eventually looking forward to retirement.

In painting a different scenario for Latino youth, we began constructing ways of attracting young people to community leadership as a vital part of their development.

We felt that if the Latino community was going to close an unattended leadership gap, it needed bright, intelligent, and intellectually-driven young minds from different Latino nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds.

The key for us was to mobilize kids who were smart. We also sought young people with strong intentions to enroll in college. And finally, we were looking for the kind of young minds who enjoyed the challenges of intellectual rigor, so that leadership could be discussed from a conceptual and organizational point of view, not reduced to popularity, title, and position.

NHI students were not going to be seen as minorities or people of color. Thinkers and analysts, yes; joiners, no!

NHI was designed for young people to forecast and participate in painting a different future for Latinos, framed by an exciting, compelling, and new vision.

We also had other goals in mind as well. Gloria saw an opportunity to form a registry known today as the NHI College Register, which brings liberal arts colleges and national universities together, diverse in size and location, all supportive of NHI’s mission and encouraging of NHI students to join their campus communities. We wanted NHI students to become familiar with these networks of opportunity well ahead of high school graduation. We also included NHI undergraduate youth mentors as well as area NHI project administrators who could write letters of recommendation on their behalf. Other personal development opportunities included workshops on interviewing, filling out college applications, and conducting interviews.

Gloria notes that, in the end, we designed a comprehensive approach to student personal development and leadership that extends far beyond current practices. Two doctoral research dissertations have been written on NHI’s work and on its students’ success in college. Even if we have to say it ourselves, NHI youth engagement experiences break from traditional learning like didactic delivery and rote memorization.

Students who go through the LDZ program are more comprehensive, more futuristic, and continue to produce the same high results that have been observed and written about over the last 40 years. Every parent and every sponsor should take this opportunity seriously as primary investors in the lives of their children.

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