Seymour High School Latino students honored


When David Juarez visited Marian University in Indianapolis this summer, it was the first time he had stepped onto a college campus.

Growing up in Los Angeles, California, he didn’t have a lot of peers or adults to look up to, he said.

Most Latinos he knew settled into a life that was expected of them, working jobs that required hard labor but paid little.

When he moved to Seymour five years ago, he met other Latino and Hispanic students who had goals and aspirations to do more with their lives, students who wanted to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers.

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They inspired him, and that’s when he knew he was capable of doing more, too.

This summer, Juarez, 16, a junior at Seymour High School, was part of Project Stepping Stone, an educational program for Indiana’s top Latino/Hispanic high school students to help prepare them for college and their futures.

“It was nice to be able to explore my options,” he said. “Given my background, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to go to college.”

Also attending the program were fellow SHS students and twins Haidy and Hannah Romero De Gante, siblings Roman and Valeria Ramirez and 2019 graduate Maria Lara Lopez, who returned to serve as an ambassador, having completed Project Stepping Stone in 2018.

Being in a leadership position was a new experience for Lopez but one she’s glad she had.

She was the only participant from Seymour last year and was excited to have five more join her this year, she said.

A total of 84 Latino/Hispanic high school students from 12 Hoosier counties attended the weeklong program in June, which included mock interviews, a résumé workshop, personalized career assessments, college campus visits, panel discussions, leadership training and other activities.

Over the course of the week, participants discovered their personal strengths, academic paths and even potential college choices.

“It helps to explore options for after graduation,” Lopez said. “We get that hands-on experience, and it’s just really helpful in seeing other Latinos in higher positions to make us want to open up and continue our education.”

Lopez, 18, is attending Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis this fall to study forensic science.

She said Project Stepping Stone is great for networking with other students who have similar backgrounds and goals.

“Once we make those connections, that door is always open to us,” she said. “I know I’ve kept in touch with people I’ve met.”

Students were chosen for the program based on their grades, recommendation letters, involvement in extracurricular activities, volunteer work and essays.

The average cumulative grade point average of all of the students attending was 3.63 out of 4.0.

This year marked the 15th anniversary of the program, which has provided more than $400,000 in scholarships to more than 200 students since 2004. In excess of $60,000 in college scholarships were awarded during this year’s graduation ceremony.

Lopez and the De Gante twins all received scholarships, and Juarez was one of three to receive the Sister Norma Rocklage Courage Award. They were chosen for demonstrating exemplary character, leadership skills and a commitment to academic excellence.

“I was so shocked when they called my name, I couldn’t stand up,” Juarez said.

Receiving the award was a big motivator to not give up, he said.

“I know I’ve got what it takes,” he said.

Lopez heard about Project Stepping Stone from her older sister, who attended the program in 2013. The De Gantes, 17, who are seniors, learned about the opportunity from their mother, Ana De Gante, who works for Seymour Community School Corp.

“At first, I didn’t want to go because I didn’t know what to expect, and you barely know anyone,” Hannah said.

But the experience was what she needed to boost her confidence in herself and her abilities.

“Being in high school, you don’t know what to expect from college, but then you see everyone there, and they’re the same color as you,” she said of the program. “It’s so cool to see everyone have the same aspirations and drive.”

By the end of the week, the new friends they had met had become like family, Haidy said.

“You grow so much closer to them because you don’t necessarily have all those people in small towns like Seymour,” she said.

Using the leadership skills and confidence she gained from the program, Hannah decided to run for class president this year. She won, and Haidy was elected treasurer. It’s the first time SHS has had two Latino students as class officers.

“After going to this program, you open up so much more, and it teaches you so many things,” Hannah said. “Coming into senior year, I feel like I’ve been able to do so many more things that I had no idea I was capable of.”

Project Stepping Stone sets you up for success, Haidy said.

“Your confidence is sky high after you go,” she said. “You feel like you can achieve whatever you want because they handpicked you. They saw the potential in you.”

Being a part of Project Stepping Stone has only increased Juarez’s desire to set high goals and standards for himself and has given him the confidence to accomplish them.

He now plans to attend college after graduation and pursue a career in the medical field as a cardiologist or nephrologist.

Like Juarez, the De Gantes have an interest in the medical field, too. Hannah wants to be a pediatrics physician for children with special needs, while Haidy said her interest lies in nursing, also working with children with special needs.

But more than anything, they all want to represent the Latino/Hispanic community in a positive way and be role models to younger students.

“They can see us and be like, ‘OK, I can do that because they did that and we look the same,'” Hannah said.

But even though it’s a responsibility, it also makes you feel good about what you’re doing, Haidy said.

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