The Latino Student Alliance at Hardin Valley Academy gives students a chance to make connections and celebrate their heritage. Club members include Eduardo Perez, Brisa Villatoro, club president Grace Rodriguez, and Brenda Moreno Bernal.

On a recent morning, a group of students at Hardin Valley Academy gathered in the auditorium for a meeting about postsecondary opportunities and the college application process.

It’s a common topic, but in this case there was a twist. As she discussed issues like dual enrollment and financial aid, a guest speaker from Centro Hispano seamlessly shifted from English to Spanish and back again.

The meeting was hosted by HVA’s Latino Student Alliance, which has more than 80 members, and aims to provide Hispanic students a place to belong and share their cultural heritage within the broader Hawk family.

“I feel like it helps you feel welcomed in the school, and you see a little bit of yourself in it, your culture,” said club president Grace Rodriguez.

The club was founded six years ago by ELL teacher Veronica Calderon-Speed, who said that as the school’s Latino student population grew, she saw a need to help those students feel part of their school, make connections and showcase their talents.

She added that at one time, students would feel anxious about speaking Spanish in the hallways, “but since we’ve created this group that has gone away.”

One of the group’s key projects is Orgullo Latino, a cultural celebration that takes place during Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Brisa Villatoro, a junior at HVA, participated in a merengue performance during last year’s Orgullo Latino, and said the Alliance gives students a place to represent their culture within a diverse student body.

At the same time, she said club members also benefit by learning about each other. “Because we’re all from different backgrounds and different ethnicities,” she said. “And it’s just really cool to learn about different countries and stuff like that.”

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