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Harrison Student Takes Civic Duty Seriously

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Erika Vidales and Aura Gomez-Tagle have learned a lot about themselves and their culture through the Hispanic Resource Center's Civic Education Program, and shared their experience at the YMCA in White Plains Thursday night.

Vidales, 16, volunteers for Mamaroneck's Hispanic Resource Center (HRC) and joined their eight-week Civic Education Program because it helps teenagers develop leadership skills through the visual arts.

"I wanted to learn more about leadership and how to become a leader," said Vidales, a junior at Rye Neck High School.

During the course of the program, students create a public service announcement about an issue of their choice. The group's PSA addressed the dropout rate, which has been significantly higher for Hispanics than blacks and whites between 1980 and 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.

The PSA, which they played on Thursday at the YMCA center at 250 Mamaroneck Ave., encourages students to stay in school.

Hispanic students who do complete high school can still face barriers to higher education if they are undocumented, said William Orellana, who teaches the Civic Education Program. That is why the HRC, along with its civic students, is traveling to Albany March 14 to put their lessons to use and advocate for the Dream Act . The bill would give students who are undocumented and meet New York's in-state tuition requirements access to financial aid for college.

The HRC initiated the program last October through a grant from Con Edison, which will pay for the first year's expenses. Zoe Colon, executive director of the HRC, hopes to continue the program in future years.

Vidales and Gomez-Tagle were part of the first group, which met every Saturday from October to December at the Mamaroneck Library -- their office at 623 Mamaroneck Ave. was still closed at the time, due to flood damage from tropical storm Irene.

In addition to learning basic civics, students learned a lot about themselves and each other.

"We definitely built off of each other," said Gomez-Tagle, a sophomore at Harrison High School. "I really believe now that I can motivate other students to stay in school, to be motivated, to be focused, and to just achieve and fulfill their personality and who they are. And I'm really proud of everyone, because now I know who I am and how I can work with my community and motivate other people to be who they are."

Gomez-Tagle was recently nominated by her school to participate in the National Student Leadership Conference, which she said, "really changed my life."

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