OGDEN — Throngs of middle school, junior high and high school students spent a day celebrating their culture and looking to their future at Weber State University at the Latinos in Action Conference. This is the third year WSU has hosted the event for students from Salt Lake City to Utah’s northern border. About 1,400 students participated in workshops, poetry, story telling and dancing.

“This is a day to celebrate them,” said Frank Magana, director of operations for Latinos in Action. It is a program for youth to learn how to incorporate their culture into the community while giving back and preparing for college. LIA is not an after-school program, though. It is an elective class that students take during the school day where they earn credit through doing service and preparing for college, Magana said. LIA does three different annual conferences throughout the state, so all who participate with the program can be involved with a conference close to their home.

Students were asked to contribute writings such as poetry or short stories or dances. Committees picked top entries and those were performed on Thursday during the course of the day, between workshops and classes. Students were also asked to dress up for the event to go along with the theme, “Professional Me.”

“We drill into their heads that it is important to get good grades, but we also want them to know that they can dress professionally and behave professionally,” Magana said. “You can dress well and act the part and look at them – boom! They did it,” Magana said as he looked over the large groups of teens picking up their lunches during their break.

Briana Galvana, a 16-year-old junior from Ben Lomond High School, said she enjoyed her time at the conference. “I can really see how great the opportunities are for me here,” Galvana said. She also really enjoyed interacting with the LIA students to see that other students are achieving things and still enjoying their culture. “This is also a great chance for me to see that I can get scholarships,” she said.

She has enjoyed her LIA class at school also and for her and many others in LIA the best part is the service. She has translated for parents at parent-teacher conferences and found it to be very rewarding.

Oliver Mendoza, a senior at Ben Lomond High, agreed. “We really do service every day and it’s good for us,” Mendoza said. He also enjoys networking with other students in the LIA program. This is the second year he has attended the conference and always comes away with something new. One big thing he has learned is that he has much to give back. “I really appreciate my community and I realize that I can take pride in my culture and integrate that into the community,” Mendoza said.

That is exactly what Magana hopes the students are seeing. “They can do both and we want them to know that,” he said. There is also a reason the conference is held on a university campus. “We want them to see they belong here. This can be their home and they can do it,” Magana said.

LIA was started in 2001, but became an official non-profit group five years ago. One of the reasons for its start is based on the fact that only 56 percent of the Latino community graduates from high school. “That is really low and is unacceptable. We want to change that. It’s the reason for our existence,” Magana said.

They want the students to be proud of their heritage, but also be proud of their high school. Banners hung around WSU’s Union Building with photos of students in business attire representing different high schools, showing how they can each be professional.

Magana said the class and things like the conference are making a positive impact. Currently 92 percent of students involved with LIA graduate from high school and 85 percent of those students go to college. “It’s having a huge impact,” Magana said.

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