Latino Thursday: The Next Generation of Leaders Looks Good

"Thank You" Poster Made by Luis Valdez Leadership Academy Student Leaders
“Thank You Poster”  by Luis Valdez Leadership Academy Student Leaders

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “kids these days.” You know what I mean. What happened to the days when kids would speak only when spoken to and say “yes, ma’am” and “no sir.” Remember those days? My favorite is, “Kids these days don’t say ‘please’ when they want something or ‘thank you’ to show gratitude.

We old timers worry about what will happen when we get older and have to rely on the next generation to take care of us. What a mess, right? These kids can’t even write full sentences when they text. They would rather send “pics” on Instagram and Snapchat than pick up a phone or write a letter.

They listen to music that isn’t even music. What happened to the good old school days when you could understand the lyrics? Earth, Wind, and Fire. Santana. Al Green. Lionel Richie. Malo. Remember “Suavecito”?

That was music.

Many people my age wonder how kids these days will run the place when we retire. The old folks are sure that the world will go straight to the dogs when the youngsters take charge.

Well my dear readers, I absolutely, overwhelmingly, vehemently, and respectfully disagree!

I know we’ll be in good hands when the next generation of Latino leaders takes the helm. Let me tell you why.

During the last two school years, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to teach leadership classes at three east side high schools: Latino College Prep Academy, Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, and Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy. Latino students represent over 90% of the population at the schools. The program I teach is a six-week freshman course that provides students with the tools to present and conduct themselves in a professional manner.

The students learn how to set and plan goals, make professional presentations, and work in teams. They also do professional development exercises to help them with shaking hands, sitting and standing posture, making eye contact, and using body language to convey confidence. This is all done within the framework of understanding and respecting Latino cultural norms. The goal of the program is to send our kids to college and beyond with the self-assurance to succeed.

At Luis Valdez Leadership Academy (LVLA) I’ve been able to see the results of the program as the student government advisor. LVLA is in its second year of operation, so the student government is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. That means that these young leaders have an opportunity to set the cultural tone for the school well into the future.

After taking the six-week course, the elected leaders learned how to run a working decision-making government. The leadership group is large. There are four school-wide elected officers, class officers, and classroom representatives. In all, 23 students represent their peers to create and manage events and activities for the school year. In any governmental environment, a leadership team of that size is challenging to manage.

With that in mind, the student leaders are studying the fundamentals of the rules of order used by city halls, statehouses, and congress. They’re learning how to share their ideas with their fellow leaders through orderly debate and discussion. The students are using the committee system to tackle the details of putting their ideas into an actual plan.

After several weeks of intense training, the student government was ready to take on its first project. They decided to have a fall dance. As the first-ever dance in the school’s history, these young leaders felt much pressure to make the event successful. They had heated debates about the theme of the dance, the date, fundraising, the food and refreshments, decorations, and much more.

To have the event they wanted, student leaders had to raise $800 by selling tickets. They had less than three weeks to achieve this goal. That’s a tall order in a working-class neighborhood. Many on campus quietly shared concerns that the student council took on too much than they could handle.

Using the rules of order they learned, the young decision-makers developed a ticket sales and marketing strategy, and created a plan for a 100% student led and managed dance. I’ve been around many leadership teams in my career, and the students experienced all of the potential pitfalls and challenges that any team of leaders could confront. Through their raucous use of the democratic process, they worked through each barrier.

When the dust settled, here’s what happened:

LVLA had its first-ever school dance, they called it the “Falling for Fall” event. More than half of the student body attended. The student government made money on the event by raising over $1,000. The buzz on campus the next Monday was all about the dance. Everyone had a great time. The event was an overwhelming success by any and every measurement.

This gets me back to “kids these days.” Given the right tools and the confidence to succeed, Latino students will be exemplary leaders in the future. We’re in good hands. Today’s Latino civic and community leaders could learn a few things about teamwork and cooperation from the LVLA student government. In fact, so could our do-nothing United States Congress.

Oh, by the way, the student government planned and hosted an appreciation potluck for me and fellow advisor Mr. Osvaldo Ruelas, a young educator who is a future leader himself. The student leaders wanted to say “thank you” for the small role we played in supporting them.

Kids these days.

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6 thoughts on “Latino Thursday: The Next Generation of Leaders Looks Good

  1. Linda Ortega

    Thanks Eddie! I too have your perspective. Give them the guidance and tools and they will do wonders! Great job. I wanna be your student.

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