by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent

In March, Questar III coordinates two annual weekend activities that impact hundreds of students locally and across the state. These hands-on programs, while unrelated, share some similarities.

Both weekend activities:

  • are the culmination of year-long learning and collaborative experiences.
  • help students build character, leadership, communication, critical, and problem-solving skills.
  • challenge students to learn and play different roles in a structured environment where creativity and teamwork is encouraged.

I am pleased to be associated with these wonderful learning opportunities – the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute and Odyssey of the Mind.

Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute 

Last weekend marked the 33rd anniversary of the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PR/HYLI) – a state-funded program named after the Assemblyman who passed away in 1994. Del Toro was influential in helping Hispanic youth better understand their civic duty and encouraging them to give back to their communities.

Questar III has coordinated this statewide program as part of a contract with the New York State Education Department since 2007. It is specifically designed to promote leadership development in Puerto Rican and Hispanic high school students.

This annual leadership development program starts in the fall when more than 400 PR/HYLI students participate in local training sessions with staff and volunteers from BOCES, RBERNs, NYC Department of Education, school districts and universities. Students identify and research legislative bills, learn parliamentary procedure, and study the legislative process. They also learn public speaking, debating, and critical thinking skills in regional sessions that take place either after school or on weekends.

Approximately 275 students traveled to Albany March 11-13 to participate in three-day institute at the University at Albany and the State Capital that included team building activities, college/career development workshops, guest speakers, and a recognition dinner among other activities.

The culmination of last weekend’s program was a mock legislative session in the State Assembly where students debated actual bills impacting their communities. Additionally, students met members of the State Legislature, Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force, local representatives, and State Education Department officials.

I have been part of PR/HYLI for the past 30 years. Working together across districts and party lines, we have reached more than 7,000 Latino and Hispanic youth – and supported their efforts to become leaders in their high schools, colleges, communities and beyond. The impact of this program extends far beyond the weekend. Case in point, a local graduate from Ichabod Crane CSD who attended Tech Valley High School was one of five scholarship winner of the Carey Gabay scholarship. You can read more about this prestigious award at Congratulations to Brian Cruz!

Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind, founded in 1978, is the largest creative problem-solving competition in the world. The daylong competition challenges kids to produce the most creative, original, and imaginative solutions to open-ended problems. Questar III coordinates the regional tournament for teams in Rensselaer, Columbia, and Greene counties each year.

On March 25, approximately 250 students from 38 public and private school teams will travel to Coxsackie-Athens CSD to present solutions they have developed and honed since last fall. This will be our first in-person competition since 2019.

Competing against same-age teams in elementary, middle, and high school divisions, the students will present their problem solutions in elaborate theatrical skits lasting no longer than eight minutes. Teams will be judged on how they solve problems, as well as their teamwork, creativity, unique solutions and excelling (i.e., going above and beyond) throughout the competition.

Odyssey of the Mind epitomizes 21st century learning, but what really sets it apart from other competitions is that there is no correct answer – a distinct difference from traditional education. It is all about critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, improvisation, imagination, and fun.

Dozens of teams will advance to the state competition in Binghamton on April 15, where they will vie for the chance to represent our region and state in the world competition in May. Our tri-county region has achieved considerable success at the statewide level in recent years. In fact, at least one of our teams has advanced to the World Finals every year since 2007 (except for 2020 due to the pandemic). Good luck to our student teams.

Many thanks to the people who make these events possible – school districts, coaches, trainers, mentors, parents, students, volunteers, and countless others. It is always amazing to see the end results of your efforts and the impact you have on our students.

PR/HYLI and Odyssey of the Mind are both excellent examples of our ability to change lives, realize dreams and do together what can’t be done alone. Looking ahead, these enrichment programs are models for supporting students of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and interests – and providing them with the essential skills needed for college, careers and citizenship.


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