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Primero Youth Leadership Summit flashes a bright horizon

The Innovation Center transformed into a dynamic space where the spirit of celebration
Primero Youth Leadership Summit

St. Vrain Valley Schools, or SVVSD, played host to the Primero Youth Leadership Summit on Saturday with a youth leadership conference designed to empower first-generation students towards college and career opportunities. 

The event, held at the Innovation Center, served as a meeting place of support for students seeking guidance, resources and connections for navigating the often-challenging path to higher education and professional success.

Throughout the day, attendees were afforded the chance to delve into a diverse array of sessions, each tailored to address critical aspects of their educational and career endeavors. From exploring pathways offered within SVVSD to receiving vital counsel on navigating the intricate landscape of financial aid for college, the summit aimed to equip students with a comprehensive toolkit for success. 

As attendees entered the Innovation Center, they were greeted by a bustling array of booths from various educational groups. Among the participants were Front Range Community College, the University of Colorado, Opportunity CLIMB’s IT Certifications, the Career Elevation and Technology Center and P-TECH — a program that provides opportunities for students to earn an Associate’s Degree free of charge while still in high school.

Stepping into the Innovation Center during the Primero Youth Leadership Summit was akin to crossing the threshold into a boisterous celebration, reminiscent of the spirited surroundings of Cinco de Mayo at Roosevelt Park. The air hummed with energy and excitement, enveloping attendees in an atmosphere of festivity. 

“Education is about celebration. We want our students to be excited about their future. They have a very bright future in front of them, and education can make so many things exciting,” said Diane Lauer, chief academic officer at SVVSD.

The Innovation Center, typically a hub of technology and learning, transformed into a dynamic space where the spirit of celebration merged seamlessly with the pursuit of knowledge, creating an awakening atmosphere.

“For us, it’s about sharing awareness about opportunity. Our target audience is our middle and high school students. For the middle school students, we want to expose them and their families to the career pathways that we’re offering at the high schools, as well as programs here at the Innovation Center,” said Patrick Kilcullen, priority programs coordinator at SVVSD. “And then for our high school students, we really want to expose them to opportunities for after graduation.”

Discussing the importance of in-person events, Lauer emphasized the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic era. While acknowledging the effectiveness of online platforms in connecting people, she underscored the value of physical gatherings. She stressed the unique strength and significance of face-to-face interactions, suggesting that despite the convenience of virtual connectivity, the tangible and communal aspects of physical gatherings remain essential.

“We had over 170 students and parents at this event. We started this back in 2019 and then COVID interrupted, and now we’re just getting back to hosting it again,” Kilcullen mentioned.

The leadership summit also witnessed a powerful keynote address by Dr. Jose Luis Zelaya, a recent Ph.D. graduate from Texas A&M University. His compelling story unfolded as he stood before the audience, expressing gratitude and humility. 

Sharing glimpses of his challenging upbringing in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, considered one of the most dangerous cities globally, Zelaya painted a striking picture of growing up amidst poverty and violence. He accentuated that his purpose was not to dwell on sadness but to reflect on how pursuing higher education and a university career can create a generational impact.

“Education changed me, empowered me and inspired me to understand that I am not an example; instead, I am a sample of the potential and capacity found in our communities. Education is power,” Zelaya declared.