SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — For seven Latina students at PSLA at Fowler High School their first period on Thursdays isn’t math or science but a chance to grow as an individual among a Latina collective. 

The Latina Mentoring Initiative is a state program that was launched on Latina Equal Pay Day in 2021.

“So this is an opportunity to see Latina leaders in education, Latinas in politics, Latinas in schools, Latina lawyers so all different Latinas that they have all different backgrounds, but they have similar experiences when they were in high school,” said Fanny Villarreal, Director of the YWCA and the mentor who spearheaded the program.

As Director of the YWCA, Villarreal was contacted by the state to spearhead the program in Syracuse. They launched the program this school year, starting with seven Latina students and pairing them with seven Latina mentors in the community.

The group meets each week for about an hour to build unique relationships in a safe space where students can ask questions, set goals and dream big. 

“I’ve never been in a group like this where we got to connect with each other and you know talk about things you know it’s not every day but every time I’m in here I feel like safe in this place,”

Veronica Torres, tenth grade participant

PSLA at Fowler Vice Principal, Ingrid Paredes, says this program is an amazing opportunity for her students to learn from people who look like them and to connect over shared experiences.

“So for them to see how their learning and their experiences are reflected outside in the community and in their lives for the future is extremely important for them to have,” Paredes said.

The group has already gone on field trips together outside of school and plans to continue to strengthen their relationships.

The hope is to expand the program over the years and have the mentorships start at a younger age to follow the students throughout their schooling.