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LDZ, NHI Programs

American LDZ debuts at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and brings students to the Capitol

2022 american ldz students st mary's college maryland washington dc
Posted: August 20, 2022 at 7:25 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

For the first time ever, the American Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session convened July 12-17 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland – and notably included a journey to Washington, D.C. where students got to experience the workings of Congress for themselves. 

Gaby Morales, education director for the program, noted that new traditions come with brand new programs, and the emerging identity of the American LDZ came forth thanks to the international flavor of the event. Students from Panama and the Dominican Republic joined students from Puerto Rico and throughout the continental U.S. to meet near and eventually in the nation’s capital. 

NHI worked with St. Mary’s College of Maryland to host over 180 student participants and NHI volunteers on its beautiful campus in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, about 80 miles south of Washington D.C. The college attracts a broad array of students from the mid-Atlantic states, and is working to increase its presence nationally and internationally through programs like the LDZ.

“As the National Public Honors College, St. Mary’s College offers an honors-level experience in all of our nationally-recognized academic programs and LEAD curriculum,” said David Hautanen Jr., vice president for enrollment management at St. Mary’s College. “As a public institution, we’re proud to partner with NHI members to deliver a first-class experience for NHI youth wanting to learn more about civic participation in a democracy through the LDZ.”

In all, 159 students, including 23 students from the Dominican Republic, 12 from México, 32 from Panama, and the remaining 92 from 10 states and the District of Columbia.

“What I really love about this LDZ is that within the first couple of hours of the program starting, they were already realizing that they had so much in common even though they were coming from completely different places,” Morales observed. “It continues to amaze me, and I love the fact, that we can find so many things that bring us together with people that you maybe otherwise would have never met … it just contributes to the program in so many ways.” 

That was underscored by Heaven Poles, a participant from Harrisburg High School: SciTech Campus in Harrisburg, Penn., who appreciated the opportunity to connect with other students. 

“Throughout the eight-day program, I was not only able to create new bonds with people from all over the country,” she said, “but I was also able to learn about our legislative system, from picking our President and Senators to writing a proposal that was beneficial to the Latinx community. On our excursion day, we went to Washington D.C. where I was able to meet  one of Pennsylvania’s Representatives in which she shared her wonderful views with us. I was more than grateful for not only that but for the opportunity of meeting people from Panama and Mexico and learning about all of their different cultures.” 

Mia Sophia White, from Loretto Academy in El Paso, was eligible to participate in the LDZ last year, but decided to do both her LDZ and CWS programs this year to have the in-person LDZ experience she’d heard about from alumni.  

“I absolutely loved my LDZ experience,” she remarked. “I met so many fun and hilarious people there, people that I thought I would never be associated with. There were a lot of people from the DR and Panamá as well people from Texas … overall, it was just such an amazing experience. Everyone talks about their LDZ being absolutely fantastic, and I completely 100% agree.” 

Morales also remarked that having such a big in-person program brought a different energy to the table compared to the COVID-19-challenged landscape of the past two years. With that came an increased appetite for students to learn and develop in the unique LDZ environment that’s helped define NHI. 

“If you focus on the conversations that they’re having … you very soon realize that they understand all of these concepts. They might not be able to pin them down, they might not be able to name them, but when it comes to identifying the assets in the community, they know how to do that. When it comes to community equity building … when they’re working on these proposals, and they’re talking about how they’re going to affect positively in the community and they’re focusing only on assets, that’s when you know that they really understood.” 

Susy Filizola, from Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, Texas, observed, “Throughout my American LDZ experience, I was faced with multiple challenges that I had to face with the mindset of a leader, and what would most benefit my community. The realistic sense of the entire delegation running our legislation was one that also taught me how to think outside of the box. My participation led me to form multiple, genuine relationships, with people from all over the world that will last a lifetime. Moving forward, I can say that my American LDZ experience was one that was eye-opening, life-changing, and one I will not forget.” 

“NHI pushes me to my limits on every level,” added Claudia Mejía from Colegio Brader in Panamá, Panamá. “I went there hoping to meet people and perhaps speak into the microphone once or twice … that drive to interact with everyone you can, that urge to express all of your crazy thoughts, and that urge to speak your own mind. Realizing the huge impact you can have by simply having the courage to stand up and convince a group of people that your thoughts are important and should be taken into account. I was touched by this program and changed in ways I never imagined possible. If you haven’t had the privilege of participating, my best suggestion is to let all of your passion influence your actions.” 

Top elected officials and award winners from the program included: 


President: Estefania Epifanio, Colegio Brader, Panamá, Panamá

Vice President: Ryan Cataldo, Haddonfield Memorial High School, Haddonfield, N.J.

Chief Justice: Claudia Medina, Colegio Brader, Panamá, Panamá

Speaker of the House: Yayden Aybar, Academia de Liderazgo UCE, San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic


Most Distinguished Representative: Angeliki Yanopulos, Colegio Brader, Panamá, Panamá

Most Persuasive Representative: Ramiro Cavazos, Texas Military Institute, San Antonio, Texas

Most Outstanding Legislator (House of Representatives): Julian Tagle, John F. Kennedy School of Querétaro, Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro, México

Best Debater (House of Representatives): Jackson Ramirez, McAllen High School, McAllen, Texas

Best Author of a Resolution (House of Representatives): Macarena Monge, Academia Internacional Boquete, Alto Boquete, Panamá

Most Distinguished Senator: Héctor Reyes, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Torreón, México

Most Persuasive Senator: Emmanuel Auqui, Dr. Susan McKinney Secondary Schools of the Arts, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Most Outstanding Legislator (Senate): Natalia Marquez, Saint Francis High School, Mountain View, Calif.

Best Debater (Senate): Sophia Garza-Serreli, Texas Military Institute, San Antonio, Texas

Best Author of a Resolution (Senate): Mia Sophia White, Loretto Academy, El Paso, Texas

Most Distinguished Attorney: Claudia Medina, Colegio Brader, Panamá, Panamá

Most Outstanding Member of the Supreme Court: Mia Barnes, W.B. Ray High School, Corpus Christi, Texas

Best Orator: Camila Monge, Academia Internacional de Boquete, Alto Boquete, Panamá


“Food Tournaments That Preserve Our Community” by Claudia Mejia, Colegio Brader, Panamá, Panamá


Emerson Delfin, Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School, Bethesda, MD

Claudia Mejia, Colegio Brader, Panamá, Panamá


Carolina Palomeras, Colegio Brader, Panamá, Panamá

The NHI wants to extend a big thank you to the National Forestry Service for their partnership and support in providing funding for the American LDZ.

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