Inaugural LDZx convenes, connects students across U.S. and Mexico
Last year, the National Hispanic Institute debuted two of its three summer programs in online formats, successfully transferring the Great Debate and Collegiate World Series to all-digital platforms. At the time, the Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session was one challenge too many for NHI to take on, but the importance of having digital options for all its programs were apparent.
That led NHI to set about creating an LDZ experience that could flourish and connect students entirely online. As NHI Senior Vice President Julio Cotto recounted, the NHI Board determined in the spring of 2020 that the LDZ program be postponed to allow staffers to develop an innovative and fully digital LDZx experience. With guidance from NHI co-founders Ernesto Nieto and Gloria de Leon, Cotto worked with a number of team members, including Paul Morales Jorge Lee, Steven Hernandez, and Maria Jose “Choche” Cruz, to design the program.
It was finally rolled out July 23-29, bringing together nearly 60 students from across the U.S. and in Mexico to be the initial participants. While the program was also in place as a backstop for the three in-person LDZ programs that took place in 2021, those were able to convene, so those who signed on for the LDZx are the only ones who have experienced it thus far.
“LDZx came to be due to unprecedented circumstances that paralyzed the world,” said Cruz, who served as co-educational director for the program. “NHI, true to its asset-based mentality pedagogy, untapped its creative potential and developed something that reimagined a program that had been around since 1983. To the founding class of LDZx, we were tasked with the development and adaptation of a new concept, and it succeeded beyond expectations. You will forever be known as history makers. The ideas, proposals, potential, and commitment shown during this program make me extremely excited for our community’s future.”
“Like the in-person version of the LDZ,” added Hernandez, the program’s other co-educational director, “he LDZx allows students to play specific roles throughout the immersive learning experience, centered around creating proposals and evaluating them. But the LDZx moves away from the LDZ’s legislative model, with a House and Senate considering legislation, into more of an entrepreneurial business model, to highlight two core elements of what NHI teaches about self-sufficient communities.”
At the 2021 LDZx, proposals were evaluated by a Community Social Entrepreneurship chamber, looking at short-term viability concerns, including how something can be done, launched, run, and evaluated, and a Community Equity Building chamber, which looked at more long-term concerns like outcomes and how much equity is built into the community as a result of the initiative.
“Often, major social forces you cannot personally stop or affect, like a pandemic, push you into change you never knew was possible or beneficial. Like many, NHI too had to dive into the virtual world. LDZx amplified the use and effectiveness of virtual learning and digital communications. NHI also learned that its “magic” can come through a screen. We learned that building an NHI leadership environment did not require walls, chairs, and sound equipment; it did require a watchful and intentional eye for making LDZx and its sister programs as multi-sensory and engaging as possible. Luckily for NHI, our members often bring that “magic” with them as default.”
Cotto saw its practical application going far beyond the program’s eight days, noting, “More and more companies, organizations, schools, and families will rely on and transition to virtual learning and digital communications. Additionally, the LDZx experience is perfect for students driven by a desire to create digital content and media. Future filmmakers, broadcast journalists, web designers, and advertising executives would benefit from creating and pursuing an agenda through an online platform. Also, for students from rural or more isolated communities, LDZx allows them the chance to engage the world and build leader networks online. Lastly, I feel that access is amplified as well by LDZx being a program that students with unique learning challenges or physical disabilities might be able to more easily and comfortably participate in a week-long growth experience and reap the benefits of NHI membership.”
“In effect,” he added, “we took a year and half to build LDZx so that it would become an experience of the future, and not just a band-aid to deal with the pandemic situation we faced.”
The program also got an additional layer of connection via junior counselor Izabela Jimenez, who created an LDZx Yearbook for students and staffers to share well wishes and messages digitally.
Top office holders at the event included:
- Chief Executive: Angela Munoz, The Awty International School, Houston, Texas
- Executive Senior Advisors: Alexia Sanchez, IDEA Pharr, Pharr, Texas; Ana Martinez, Juan Diego Academy, Mission, Texas; Julian Hernandez, Westtown School, West Chester, Pennsylvania; Zachary Edelstein, Veterans Memorial Early College High School, Brownsville, Texas
- Presiding Officer, Community Equity Building Chamber: Josue Lozano-Cantu, Veterans Memorial High School, Corpus Christi, Texas
- Presiding Officer, Community Social Entrepreneurship Chamber: Izak de la Cruz, Central Catholic High School, San Antonio, Texas
The students came together to approve six different proposed initiatives, which included:
- Connecting Latino Youth with Latino Leaders, written by Santiago Benbow, Westtown School, West Chester, Pennsylvania
- Latinos Startup Technology, written by Joseph Suess, Shadow Creek High School, Pearland, Texas
- Financial Literacy Startup, written by Alexia Sanchez, IDEA Pharr, Pharr, Texas
- LATINX STEM Exposure, written by Jaziel Aquino, All Hallows High School, Bronx, New York
- Education Entrepreneurship Program, written by Amaris Alfonseca, Central Bucks East High School, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
- Latino Appreciation Week Cultural Festival, written by The Executive Chamber
Honors went to the following students:
- Best Visionary, Community Equity Building Chamber: Gabriela Arriaga Sanchez, School of Science and Engineering Magnet at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center, Dallas, Texas
- Best Debater, Community Equity Building Chamber: Malinali Sanchez, Pleasant Valley High School, Bettendorf, Iowa
- Outstanding Governance, Community Equity Building Chamber: Jaziel Aquino, All Hallows High School, Bronx, New York
- Best Visionary, Community Social Entrepreneurship Chamber: Joseph Suess, Shadow Creek High School, Pearland, Texas
- Best Debater, Community Social Entrepreneurship Chamber: Christina Fernandez, Fossil Ridge High School, Fort Collins, Colorado
- Outstanding Governance, Community Social Entrepreneurship Chamber: Aiden Solonka, Central Catholic High School, San Antonio, Texas
- Top Asset Builder: Santiago Benbow, Westtown School, West Chester, Pennsylvania
- Most Promising Member: Amaris Alfonseca, Central Bucks East High School, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
- Ricky Miranda Memorial Award: Diego Valdez, IDEA Mission, Mission, Texas
- Premio de la Resiliencia: Luis Manuel Escamilla Orozco, John F. Kennedy School, The American School of Querétaro, Queretaro, Mexico