Community members who go above and beyond
The native of Venezuela has quickly become a teen leader
Wearing a cap and gown, Valentina Maza, 17, greeted her mother on FaceTime.
Her mother took one look and began crying. “She cries a lot,” says the William Penn High School student, who will graduate next June. “I don’t cry in front of her. I have to be really strong and not cry.”
Maza hasn’t seen her mother in person since last November, when she managed to visit the United States for two weeks. And she most likely won’t see her on graduation day, either. “Because of the current situation in Venezuela we don’t really know what to expect,” says Maza.
“There’s no future in Venezuela, no food, no medicine, and people get killed for thinking differently. It’s been very difficult to be separated from my parents and friends, [but] Venezuela is not a safe place. It hurts to so much to say that, but it’s a reality.”
Maza came to Delaware two years ago to live with an uncle and his family in New Castle. Since then, she has become a student advocate, speaking at educational forums, organizing a Spanish Club, and creating services at William Penn to help immigrant and new students to feel welcomed and accepted.
She says she knows how it feels to be a non-English speaker at a school with more than 2,000 students who is not familiar with a new culture and doesn’t know anyone. “Adapting myself to that new environment [was very difficult],” she says. “The only word to describe those first days of school [is] lost.”
Maza hopes to one day return to Venezuela to help her parents and its citizens, and to give back to a community that has offered her many opportunities.
In April, she received a Hispanic Recognition Award from the Latin American Community Center for her community service.
That same month she spoke at the Education Equity Conference in Newark, attended by John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education. Maza talked about her experience as an English language learner. She hopes her speech will help attract the financial support needed to improve English as a Second Language (ESL) resources at William Penn.
In the fall of 2017 Maza became the only student member of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee. She advises members to visit schools and speak with and listen to students to find out what barriers they face. “Decisions about how to run schools can’t be made based solely on committee members’ personal perspectives, but should be based on the experiences of students,” she says.
“Her passion is what all the kids love, and teachers too,” says Andrew Capone, William Penn counselor and ASPIRA Club advisor. “At William Penn, 22.9 percent of the students are Hispanics, while 7 percent are English learners,” including students from Haiti, Poland and the Ukraine.
As president of ASPIRA, a youth leadership development program, Maza has helped create an “orientation buddy system” to help new students adapt to the school, and inform them about clubs, activities and services, such as homework help.
Last winter, Maza organized a Spanish Club at TeenSHARP (short for Successful, High-Achieving and Reaching Potential), a college prep and leadership non-profit in Wilmington that is designed to promote low-income and minority students’ access to top colleges. The Spanish Club helps expose members to cultures of Spanish-speaking countries.
She plans to major in political science and law or psychology and education, and she hopes to attend Stanford, Swarthmore or Princeton.