Four incredible Huntington High School Class of 2021 members are this year’s recipients of the Santos Garcia-Avelar Award, which is presented in honor of a 2016 alum to help hardworking students who have acclimated successfully to a new learning environment along with a new culture and language.
The awards were formally presented by 2016 Huntington High School alum Oscar Aguilar-Cruz, who went on to earned a BS degree in civil engineering with a concentration in construction engineering management at Clarkson University in 2020.
“I am currently working for Whiting-Turner as a virtual design and construction engineer,” Mr. Aguilar-Cruz said. “None of these things would be possible without the great efforts of our teachers in Huntington’s ENL (English as a new language) program. This program helped strengthen my language skills in writing and speaking the English language. I will always be grateful to Mrs. Alice Pancir and Mrs. Eileen Gonzalez, my first ENL teachers. With this in mind, I decided to create the Santos Garcia-Avelar Award in order to help those hard working students, who have to accommodate to a new learning environment and learn a new culture and language.”
The awards were formally presented to the four graduating seniors during the high school’s annual scholarship and awards night. The honorees include Yolani Cabrera, Niurca Chabla Leon, Kehila Jean and David Canas Granados
“Learning a new language is a great challenge,” Mr. Aguilar-Cruz said. “Mostly everyone learns a new language because they want to widen their knowledge. English learners have to learn a new language in order to survive in school and in their new life. Many of them face many difficulties such a leaving their family behind, entering a very dangerous journey to the states and surviving tough situations once settled here.”
A 206 Huntington alum, Mr. Garcia Avelar obtained an undergraduate degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is now studying at the University of Washington School of Law on a scholarship.
Mr. Canas Granados was awarded a $500 scholarship. He will be attending City University of New York – Hunter College. Ms. Chabla-Leon was awarded $150. She will be pursuing studies at Adelphi University. Ms. Cabrera and Ms. Jean were both awarded $100. Ms. Cabrera will attending CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Ms. Jean is headed to Farmingdale State College.
“Yolani a student who is very caring and respectful and who makes sacrifices for others,” Mr. Aguilar Cruz said. “She was involved in the New World mentoring club, where she supported immigrant students through friendship, team building and mentoring. Niurca is an outstanding student who is also very dedicated to her education, but at the same time very selfless. Her teachers described her kindness towards others and her willingness to help anyone in need. She often becomes the translator for her family on important occasions such as going to the doctor, filling out forms and other important activities.”
Mr. Aguilar-Cruz also praised Ms. Jean and Mr. Canas Granados for how far they have come and for where they are going.
“Kehila is a student who in such a short time has learned so much English and understands the importance of education,” Mr. Aguilar-Cruz said. “She has sacrificed so much in having to leave her home country (Haiti) and her parents behind. This is a sacrifice no child should make at such an early stage of life, but it also shows how determined she is about getting an education. David is very consistent, steady and unwavering because David is a student who would never miss a day of class. His work ethic is very impressive and he would often find a way to help others. What I love about David is how strong he is. He has faced many challenges in his formative years, but he has found a way to overcome them. He once said, ‘I’m an intellectual young adult that will not let the ignorance of others define my future. I’ve faced many challenges in my life, but I learned from them. I use this as fuel to help me succeed. Every day that I succeed in life, I know that I can accomplish anything.’ This shows how strong David is and I’m sure he will be successful in life.”
Mr. Aguilar-Cruz initially wanted to award a $500 scholarship to one graduating senior, “but after reading all of the applications I realized I needed to find a way to give everyone a little bit of something,” he said. “These four students have faced many challenges, but I have no doubt they will be very successful in life.”
The new scholarship award is sure to become a popular and highly regarded one as word of it spreads. Ms. Aguilar-Cruz intends to present it again to members of Huntington’s Class of 2022.
“This year, I started this award very small, however in the future I am hoping to contribute more to the program,” Mr. Aguilar-Cruz said. “I want to help students understand the opportunities they can have such as taking Advanced Placement and honors classes, understanding the college process, applying for scholarships, applying for financial aid/student loans and attending a trade school if they so choose. I want them to know they have options. I also want to help them with life skills, such as learning how to apply for credit cards, how to file their taxes and how to network with people. Things I wish I could have learned earlier on in life.”