Quisqueya Witbeck Participates in Youth Leadership Institute
The New York State Assembly chamber is the bedrock of New York State government and on March 24 -- 26 it was the stage for the Annual Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PRHYLI). Columbia High senior Quisqueya Witbeck participated in the PRHYLI as part of the Capital Region delegation, gaining insight and real life experience on the inner workings of state government.
PRHYLI is an annual event that draws more than 200 students statewide to the Capitol for three days of intensive learning experiences. The institute, held each year in honor of former Assemblyman Angelo Del Toro, is designed to foster leadership, public speaking skills and a greater understanding of state government.
Beginning in January, Quisqueya and the 10 other Capital Region student delegates participated in nine weekly training sessions at Albany High School. Each three-hour session focused on a different skill the students would need to participate in a mock debate on the Assembly floor; that event was the culminating activity of the PRHYLI.
During the mock debate, student delegates from all over the state filled in for actual Assembly members. Quisqueya sat in for Teresa R. Sayward, a Republican representative from the 113th Assembly District, which includes parts of the Adirondack North Country. When asked about her party affiliation, Quisqueya responded, “I don’t go by party, I go by policy.”
“Saturday was the first day of the institute and we spent it getting to know each other,” Quisqueya explained. “In the afternoon, we had to do research and prepare a public service announcement.”
The students wrote, directed, produced and recorded the public service announcements (PSA), then presented them to the other delegations, who selected one PSA as the best.
“The winning public service announcement was on human trafficking,” Quisqueya said. “Over the next few months, we will participate in fundraising efforts to raise awareness on the human trafficking issue,” she added.
On Sunday morning, the students divided into groups for party caucuses to prepare for the afternoon debates. The Sunday afternoon debate in a mock assembly was the keystone event of the weekend. “It was fascinating to have a voice and be able to represent yourself and your community,” Quisqueya explained.
During the mock assembly on Sunday afternoon, the PRHYLI delegates engaged in debate on five bills currently under discussion in the State Legislature. “It was a powerful experience; we actually sat in the chairs of the Assembly members and followed the rules of legislative procedures,” Quisqueya said.
Sunday night, an evening of dancing and celebration was preceded by the awards ceremony at Franklin Plaza in Troy. “It was beautiful location for the event,” said Quisqueya. She had the honor of receiving the prestigious Angelo Del Toro Scholarship.
The students visit with Assembly members in their offices on Monday. “We met with Marcos A. Crespo, one of the youngest assemblymen. He seemed genuinely interested in encouraging our involvement in politics,” Quisqueya said.
“Participating in this event definitely takes away the mystery of government,” Quisqueya explained. “It was great to be with people who are Hispanic and Latino from all over state who want to make a difference,” she said.
Assemblywoman Earlene Hooper spoke with the group. Quisqueya said, “She made some very encouraging statements: she said she would like to see more minority women getting involved in government, and added that it was a shame the media didn’t spend more time covering significant activities by minority students like the PRHYLI.”
Quisqueya is looking into the possibility interning with the Assembly over the summer. In addition, she will continue to participate in YouthFx, a nonprofit organization that helps students develop as filmmakers. “We learn all the aspects of filmmaking, and we present a show of what we create at the Madison Theater in Albany,” she explained.
“I originally became involved in YouthFx because of my interest in photography, but now I’m enjoying learning all of the different aspects of filming. It’s interesting,” she said.
Quisqueya hasn’t decided on a college yet; she has received several acceptance letters. Among the colleges she is considering: American University, Bard College and Western New England University.
“Politics isn’t necessarily my main interest,” Quisqueya explained. “I want to work with people, but my main interests are in world history and international affairs.”
Questar III BOCES coordinates the leadership institute as part of a five-year contract awarded by the New York State Education Department. PR/HYLI is co-sponsored by the State Education Department Office of Bilingual Education and Foreign Studies, New York City Department of Education, Aspira of New York, Inc., The College Board, and the Bilingual Education Technical Assistance Centers (BETACs).
For more information, please visit prhyli.org.