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Riverhead students create positive change in community

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Whoopi Goldberg and Chelsea Clinton stood on stage at The Theater at Madison Square Garden Sept. 20 as part of WE Day UN.

Mayra Alvarado, a 17-year-old Riverhead High School senior, shared the stage with the dignitaries during the event, aimed at celebrating and enabling students to create change in their local and global communities.

About 20 other students from Penélope Boerum’s AP Spanish Language and Culture class also attended the event.

Ms. Alvarado presented a project on how poverty affects education. She completed the project during her junior year alongside fellow students in the AP Spanish Language and Culture class.

“I was nervous, but I had fun,” she said. “I had never done something like that before. It felt nice to inspire other kids and show that a little change can go a big way.”

Ms. Alvarado and her peers, who didn’t present on stage with her, organized a chocolate box sale outside Stop & Shop last year and used the proceeds to buy school supplies at Walmart for students in need at Riley Avenue Elementary School.

She said her group researched the effects of poverty on students’ education and found that children in low-income homes often don’t have access to necessary school supplies, negatively impacting their educational experience.

“It was very inspiring,” Ms. Alvarado said of WE Day UN. “It was nice to hear [the professional speakers] give their words of wisdom. The other children who were there talking about their projects, that was also inspiring.”

WE Day is held by the WE Charity, an international organization that “brings people together and gives them the tools to change the world,” according to its website.

About 20 students from Riverhead’s Advanced Placement Spanish language and culture class taught by Penelope Boerum attended WE Day UN last month. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

“It was a motivational day where a lot of people who attended spoke their viewpoints,” Sarah Vunkannon, 16, said. “A lot of people talked about what they’ve done to further the organization’s goals. They got us hyped up and ready to go out there and do stuff.”

Students who attended WE Day UN couldn’t purchase tickets. Instead, they had to complete a charitable project like Ms. Alvarado did or be enrolled in a WE Schools class, like Ms. Boerum’s AP Spanish Language and Culture class, Ivanna Espinoza, 15, explained.

This idea is to inspire the students to give back to their communities so that they can attend future celebrations.

Ms. Boerum’s current students will soon begin working on their own community project, which will also explore how poverty impacts education, she said.

The students agreed they’re excited to start their project and were inspired by the speakers at the event. Some of their favorites included Ms. Clinton, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, and Mr. Trudeau and his wife, Margaret.

“It was inspiring,” Byron Coc-Puluc, 17, said. “It felt surreal because they were right in front of you because we were in the front row.”

Top photo caption: Riverhead senior Mayra Alvarado presented a project at WE Day UN in New York City that dealt with how poverty affects education. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

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