Traditionally one of the most active organizations around Huntington High School, the Spanish Honor Society is looking ahead to the new school year with a sense of optimism and excitement.
Officially known as the Galápagos chapter of the National Spanish Honor Society, the organization never sits on its collective hands. Last year’s officers included seniors Michaela Carnesi (president), Amanda LoScalzo (vice president), Steve Yeh (treasurer), Camille Stafford (corresponding secretary) and Magenta Lopez (recording secretary). The sensational teenagers worked closely with their fellow members and faculty advisor Mercy Peña to bring the group to new heights.
Mrs. Peña has been at the high school since 2001. She earned a BA degree from the State University of Cuenca (Universidad Estatal de Cuenca) in Ecuador, majoring in teaching English to speakers of other languages. She traveled to New York for her master’s degree, studying at New York University at night while working as an administrative assistant at Plenum Press during the day. She met her future husband at the Xerox machine there.
In New York, Mrs. Peña volunteered as an ESL teacher at an East Village church. After obtaining her master’s degree she returned to Cuenca and taught TESOL methodology courses to future EFL/ESL teachers in the State University of Cuenca. She was also director of the foreign language department in a high school that was annexed to the State University of Cuenca.
It was around this time that she married Kenneth Wishnia, an American. The couple moved back to New York a year later and Mrs. Peña went on to teach ESL at Lehman College, Suffolk Community College and BOCES. She also completed additional graduate classes at SUNY Stony Brook for state Spanish certification.
After a long run as the Spanish Honor Society’s faculty advisor, Mrs. Peña is stepping aside from the post. Her department colleagues Nadine Araoz and Maria Gonzalez are slated to be the organization’s new advisors. “I am thrilled to learn this because we have one of the highest amounts of members out of all the clubs and these two outstanding teachers are perfect for the society and will lead them in the right direction,” Mrs. Peña said. “They are both creative and sensitive professionals.”
A new slate of officers has been elected for 2017/18, including Erick Joya-Amaya (president), Edgar Rivas (vice president), Emily Miron (treasurer), Ariana Strieb (corresponding secretary), Serina Aguirre (recording secretary), Niamh Condon (administrative assistant) and Jamie Rosenbauer (historian). “They are an amazing group of responsible and dedicated students, so I know that we’re leaving the society in excellent hands,” Mrs. Peña said.
Ms. Carnesi, Mr. Yeh and Ms. Stafford took the lead in coordinating the elections for next year’s officers. “We’ve never had so many candidates running for office,” Mrs. Peña said.
When classes resume in September, the Spanish Honor Society is expected to be just as active around the high school as it has always been. “Mrs. Aaroz teaches ENL and will be able to motivate her students to come to the tutoring sessions and Mrs. Gonzalez teaches Spanish and will be able to encourage the world language students to also get extra help from their peers in the society,” Mrs. Peña said. “I am good friends with both of them and I will be happy to guide them throughout the year.”
As she prepares to formally turn over the reins, Mrs. Peña took some time to review all that’s been accomplished. “It’s been a wonderful 15 years of service,” she said. “The money from the fundraisers that the society has organized has gone to a variety of causes over the years, such as victims of natural catastrophes around the world, people in need in the community and our yearly scholarships for less privileged seniors at the high school. It has also been rewarding seeing members bring holiday gifts for the Huntington Interfaith Homeless Initiative and peers from low-income families. Nevertheless, the most gratifying experience has been witnessing the members help the ENL students in our social groups and tutoring sessions. These members have often come to me to share how much they themselves have learned from their new friends. They have discovered that they have more similarities than differences. When I hear their appreciation of these interactive moments, I know there is so much hope for the future with our young generation.”
An enthusiastic group of incoming officers, two new faculty advisors and dozens of continuing and recently inducted members have set the stage for the Spanish Honor Society hopes will be its best year ever.
“I am so grateful to all of the past presidents and officers the last 15 years,” she said. “I keep in touch with many of them and they are now top professionals or outstanding college students; just like they were in the society and in my classes.”
The organization appears well positioned to continue its long run of success. “I wish Mrs. Aaroz, Mrs. Gonzalez, the new officers and all the members the very best because they are the best of the best,” Mrs. Peña said. “The experiences I had with this marvelous society will always remain deep in my heart.”