A message from Gladys Cruz

Learning What is Possible

March 27, 2017 

Questar III recently coordinated two weekend activities that impacted hundreds of students locally and across the state. These hands-on programs, while unrelated, share some similarities.

Both weekend activities:

  • were the culmination of year-long learning and collaboration;
  • helped students build character, leadership, and communication and problem-solving skills; and,
  • challenged students to learn and play different roles in a structured environment where creativity and teamwork is encouraged, but there is no right answer.

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

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 come up with 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, a record 98 teams traveled to Coxsackie-Athens CSD to present solutions they developed and honed since last fall. Competing against same-age teams in elementary, middle and high school divisions, the students presented their problem solutions in elaborate theatrical skits lasting no longer than eight minutes. Teams were judged on how they solved problems, as well as their teamwork, creativity, unique solutions and in 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 creativity, teamwork, improvisation, imagination and fun.

A total of 24 teams advanced to the state competition in Binghamton on April 8, where they will vie for the chance to represent the state in the world competition. Our region has achieved considerable success at the statewide level in recent years. In fact, at least one of our teams have advanced to the World Finals every year since 2007, including 12 in the past five years alone. Congratulations to our teams and good luck in Binghamton!

Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute
This year marked the 27th anniversary of the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PR/HYLI) – a state-funded program named after the Assemblyman who died 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 Latino and Hispanic high school students.

This education program started earlier this year when more than 200 PR/HYLI students participated in local training sessions with staff and volunteers from BOCES, RBERNs, the NYCDOE, districts and universities. Students identified and researched legislative bills, learned the parliamentary procedure and studied the legislative process afterschool and on weekends.

Students then traveled to Albany March 24-26 to participate in a weekend that included team building activities, college/career development workshops and a recognition dinner among other activities.

The culmination of the weekend program was a mock legislative session 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 24 years. Working together across districts and party lines, we have impacted thousands of Latino and Hispanic youth – and supported their efforts to become leaders in their high schools, colleges, communities and beyond.

Many thanks to the people who made these two recent 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.

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

Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent