Latinos in Action students flourish at Park City High School
Perla Arreola didn’t consider herself a poet. In fact, she’d never written anything before.
But the emotions she felt were a real, and one day after school she put them on the page. As it turns out, maybe Arreola is a writer after all. A senior at Park City High School, she finished second in a recent statewide poetry competition open to all students involved in Latinos in Action.
"I was surprised to win because I wasn’t expecting it," she said.
The theme of the competition was professionalism and how it related to the participants. Arreola had never thought of herself as a professional, but she quickly found her voice as she wrote: "Those who do not believe in me wonder," she wrote in her poem, titled "Professional Me." "And those who are loyal to me have no idea what I had to sacrifice to get here — no idea what I had to overcome."
As she wrote, she learned more about herself.
"Thinking about the topic of professionalism was really hard because I don’t really have a mindset on what I want to do when I grow up," she said. "It was hard, but I don’t know, one time after school I felt inspired."
Arreola isn’t the only member of the high school’s chapter of Latinos in Action whose words have earned accolades. Abelardo Vazquez recently won a $1,000 Latinos in Action scholarship. The application process, open only to seniors, required answers to three essay questions, and judges also evaluated applicants’ grade point average and extra-curricular participation.
Unlike Arreola, Vazquez was confident in his ability to win since he’d won a similar contest last year.
"I was kind of cocky, I guess," said Vazquez, a senior. "I thought I would win again. I just had a feeling I was going to win."
Anna Williams, the high school’s Latinos in Action advisor, said Vazquez’ two years of volunteering with the Inclusion Center was key in winning the scholarship. The Inclusion Center is a non-profit organization in Salt Lake City dedicated to eliminating prejudice and discrimination.
Williams introduced Vazquez to the organization, though at first he was hesitant.
"I said, ‘You are going to love this and you need this,’" Williams said. "He’s been working with them ever since."
Vazquez said working with the Inclusion Center has helped him grow as a person and a student.
"Coming out from Treasure Mountain Junior High, I wasn’t, like, the best kid," he said. "I guess I just wanted to better myself, so I decided to start volunteering."
Both Vazquez and Arreola are considering going to college at Utah State University. Arreola is undecided about what she wants to pursue.
"I feel like college could take me anywhere," said Arreola, who also is looking at going to Weber State. "Maybe math or agriculture, business. I don’t know."
Vazquez has a better idea of what he wants to do but is keeping his options open.
"I’m still debating it," he said. "I want to go into business or education, but right now I’m leaning toward business a little more. My friends and I started a clothing company, so I’m leaning toward that right now."
That both Vazquez and Arreola plan to go to college is a testament to how hard they’ve worked in high school, Williams said.
"It’s been a thing of beauty to watch them develop and grow from really shy, uncertain 10th-graders to the kids they are today," she said. "They’re talking about college like it’s a reality because it is a reality. I love that the world is their oyster. It’s pretty awesome."
The progress Arreola and Vazquez have made while in Latinos in Action is representative of the success the organization is having with the majority of its students at the high school, Williams said. The amount of interest in the group has never been higher, and once involved, students are flourishing.
"I love these kids and we’re just getting stronger and stronger," Williams said. "As a matter of fact, we had to offer two sections of LIA this year because I had too many qualified kids and I couldn’t turn them away. So if they had the GPA requirement and had the motivation to serve the community, I said, ‘Why not?’ It’s been wonderful."
A Park City High School senior facing 18 criminal charges admitted to releasing pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall last month to prevent a conservative school club from hosting an event.