Education

Marvict Rodriguez-Benkert: Dreaming for Herself and Others

by Sandy Chase

Marvict Rodriguez-Benkert

Marvict is determined to excel in all she does—serving as a role model for her students and mentees.  Having faced challenges head on, she’s become a stronger person.  Those who know her say that she has grit—courage to accomplish whatever she sets her mind to.

A seventh- and eighth-grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher, Marvict enjoys discussing stories and poems that help her students learn about themselves, others, and their world.  

“The satisfaction I feel when my students understand the importance of working on critical thinking and communication skills is invaluable.”

For Marvict, “It’s rewarding when my students tell me that they enjoyed a specific piece of literature, connected with the characters or events, or they’re able to understand a viewpoint that’s different from their own.” 

Having received her bachelor’s degree in English from University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, Marvict has been teaching ELA for four years, her first two at Bradenton’s W.D. Sugg Middle School.  

Currently, Marvict teaches at the State College of Florida Collegiate School (SCFCS), a charter school providing a dual enrollment program:  a high-school diploma and an associate’s degree.  

Teaching at SCFCS gives Marvict more freedom to develop her curriculum—with more technology at hand.  As a new teacher, she devoted countless hours planning her lessons—questioning her strategies.  Over the years, she’s become more confident in her informed instructional decisions. 

However, an ongoing challenge is reaching every student.  Marvict has come to realize:  “Those who want to learn will, and those who don’t—won’t.  Ensuring that students are using technology appropriately is another challenge.”

But Marvict embraces challenges:  obstacles won’t prevent her from realizing her dreams.  During her college-application process, that determination was tested repeatedly.  

An ex-Dreamer, Marvict and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela 22 years ago.  Because of her undocumented immigrant status, Marvict couldn’t attend any of her choice schools—even though she excelled in high school and received several scholarships.  

Marvict explains, “I couldn’t apply for financial aid or claim any of my scholarships.  My single mom couldn’t afford to pay my tuition.”   

Refusing to accept the inevitable, Marvict says, “I was angry for a while.  It wasn’t until years later that I learned to value what my Dreamer experience had taught me—persevere and never give up on my dreams.”

True to herself, Marvict became a U.S. citizen in 2014.  Before then, she pursued an associate degree and worked at Starbucks, setting aside part of her salary for school and helping her mom.

Fortunately for her students and UnidosNow mentees, Marvict continues to make a difference in others’ lives.  Without a doubt, her 10-month-old daughter, Emilia, benefits from continual “learning” opportunities.  Laughing, Marvict says, “Soon she and I will be dancing together, one of my favorite pastimes.”

Kelly Monod, senior head of school at SCFCS, applauds Marvict’s determination to excel, reach new levels of expertise in her field, and inspire her students to achieve the highest standards of which they’re capable:  

“Marvict has grit—shown by her professional goals and in the classroom. Never giving up on her students, she always meets them at their academic level.  She asks them to grow in their learning, while celebrating their successes.”

A colleague attests to Marvict’s refusal to be defeated.

“Marvict can best be described as fearless—especially when facing challenges.  Looking at what needs to be done, she’s one of the first people to present viable ideas.  Not shying from the unknown, Marvict has an ability to connect with students.  She always goes the extra mile for them.”

UnidosNow Executive Director Luz Corcuera also praises Marvict:

“Marvict brings passion, knowledge, and dedication to UnidosNow—whether as a volunteer at our Noche Latina celebration or for our mentoring program.  We are forever grateful for her time and talent over these last four years.”

One of Marvict’s ex-mentees Daisy Mendoza, a psychology major at Florida Gulf Coast University says, “She was a big help when I needed to have my college essay revised.  Always available, she made sure I filled out my applications correctly.”  

Marvict replies:  “My mentees and students inspire me to continue learning and become a better person so I can help others.  Staying involved in my community has helped me focus on my next dream—that of attending graduate school.”

Law fascinates Marvict. “I want to use my critical thinking skills to change a person’s life in a positive way.  Immigration law interests me because I’d be able to help, guide, and represent others in an emotionally taxing process.”  

Marvict wants to apply her writing skills and life experience to draft laws that would improve people’s lives in a diverse society.  She’s also interested in exploring leadership roles in the public-service sector.

Wherever Marvict’s journey takes her, she won’t stop striving until she’s realized all her dreams and helped others to achieve theirs as well.

Together in the Distance. Our Parent Leadership Program Participants Stay in Touch

By Marnie Howell, Parent Leadership Coordinator

When we couldn’t attend a classroom, our Parent Leadership group created a WhatsApp group for our classes at Gocio and Tuttle elementary schools. We found a new way to connect with students, and our site has been unbelievably busy.

Our daily communication consists of a small lesson that’s posted in the morning. Some of our favorite themes have been flowers, recipes, specific foods, history behind holidays and celebrations, and lessons parents can do with their children.

We also use the group to post news of locations of food banks, where masks are being handed out and any other critical information. Our participants have become very adept at using new technology, and are constantly sending pictures of the food they’ve received, wishing each other happy birthdays, as well as uplifting each other in any way they can.

Here are some comments from our moms about what this online tool has meant for them:

“It is very fulfilling for me opening up a chat and that someone is always there wishing well, or sharing something good, or learning something in this beautiful group; all that happens to me. So when I open WhatsApp, this is the frist chat I open… I miss you.” |“Es muy satisfactorio para mí abrir un chat y que alguien siempre esté deseando algo bueno o compartiendo algo bueno o estar aprendiendo algo en este bello grupo; me pasa todo esto. Así que cuando  abro el WhatsApp, el primer chat que abro es este… Las extraño”.

“Personally, I want to thank you, for the teaching, the time shared, and your dedication to continue giving your best to us every day. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed and made the most of each class, and learned new things.” | “Personalmente quiero agradecerle,  por las enseñanzas, el tiempo compartido,  y su gran dedicación a seguir cada día dando lo mejor de ustedes hacia nosotros. Gracias. He disfrutado y aprovechado cada clase, he aprendido cosas nuevas”.

A Future Leaders Academy Scholar Provides Summer Enrichment Sessions

The name of our college and career readiness programs is the Future Leaders Academy, but we know our scholars are already leaders: Denny Lu is a perfect example.

Knowing the challenges many low-income families face in supporting their children to keep up with their school work, Denny has created a nonprofit organization to help these children with tutoring sessions over the summer: Your Advance is now in full session, and Denny and his volunteers are already working with our younger scholars in the areas of reading, science, and math.

This month he connected with our team to ensure our Future Leaders Academy for Girls scholars could benefit from it. Hear from Denny himself his motivation to create this organization:

“Recently, I launched my new non profit organization called Your Advance. Because of the interruptions we all experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is already stressful for many students—especially those who don’t have the financial means to afford tutors or classes outside of their school time—to enrich their learning and refine the skills to excel for the upcoming school year.

“This became personal for me in fourth grade when I was truly helpless in math class and felt overwhelmed, but fortunately I was connected to a volunteer tutor that still inspires me on to this day to achieve the most I can in school and in life. I wanted to create an organization that aimed to inspire youth and foster a growth mindset, which laid the foundation for my non-profit Your Advance.

“Over this summer, my intention is to continue providing students—regardless of economic hardships or barriers—an opportunity to have free enrichment and tutoring that prepares them for the rigor and challenges of the upcoming school year.

“Summer is always the best time to actively continue education, not in an overwhelming matter, but constantly engaging students is part of the process of continual learning.”

Thank you for using your leadership skills to be there for our community.

Our Scholars and The Giving Challenge

Another silver lining of this pandemic has been the support we’ve received from our Future Leaders Academy Scholars and alumni during the 2020 Giving Challenge. We asked a few of our scholars why they wanted to get involved and what they got out of the experience. Here are two answers:

Leonela Tasé Sueiro, Future Leaders Academy Alumnus and student at George Washington University.

The Giving Challenge is a unique opportunity for community members to show how much they care for and appreciate local organizations, which do so much to empower, inspire, and encourage the next generation of movers and shakers

UnidosNow—being at the forefront of this unceasing, rewarding task—can and will always count on my support and participation. I especially enjoyed getting to be a panelist this year because I got to showcase just a sliver of what I have learned as a Future Leaders Academy scholar and UnidosNow alumna. 

I hope that through this experience and future ones, I can become a role model for younger teens. I want to show them the importance of giving back to the people and organizations that shape you and help you achieve your goals. In that way, The Giving Challenge is as much of a gift to me as it is to our wonderful Dream Team and UnidosNow programs. – Leonela Tasé Sueiro


Liam Ordonez, Future Leader Academy Alumnus, studying at Cornell University.

Because of COVID-19, I have had the privilege to come back home and connect with local nonprofits and other organizations that once served me. While I have been home, I have specifically extended a hand to UnidosNow. Their mission highlights my aspirations and passions; “to elevate the quality of life of the growing Hispanic/Latino community through education, integration, and civic engagement.” 

My passion for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their promotion of higher education within minority communities has given me the motivation to support organizations such as UnidosNow. When helping during The Giving Challenge, I felt empowered as a past Future Leaders Academy student who was now supporting other promising Latinx students. Through this experience, I got to stand on the other end of the program as I promised to support this organization in any way possible. – Liam Ordonez

Scholars Tutoring Scholars

by Sandy Chase

Our Future Leader Academy Scholar Daisy tutors our FLAG Schoclar Jennifer. UnidosNow Family Engagement Director Lisbeth Oscuvilca made the connection between the two students.

COVID-19 will not defeat us—especially when we have resources like our Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Scholars and alumni—embodying the UnidosNow mission: Elevating the quality of life of the Hispanic/Latino community through education, integration and civic engagement. Guest college students and current FLA members have come to rescue because they understand the difficulties our young students and parents face.

When COVID-19 hit us and forced us to stay home, many of our families needed to adapt to this new way of life, as they became “substitute” teachers, learning how to manage technology so their children could join online classes. 

Many parents—unprepared and uncomfortable with their new role and concerned that their children were becoming demotivated—began asking for our help.

That’s when we turned to our scholars to tutor these students during the “New Normal” of online classes.  

Our FLA Scholar tutors Maribel Perex

It’s a simple concept that our scholars understand and practice: “Give back to the community.” Almost immediately, they registered to help one or two young students. Methodically, we assigned students to our tutors, depending on the subjects they feel comfortable teaching. Now, our tutors are meeting once or twice weekly, helping students with homework while addressing their struggles with online learning.

We’re proud to say that elementary- and middle-school students and Parent Leadership programs are benefiting from this new support we are offering. 

Someday, COVID-19 will be a topic in a history book.  But because of our scholars, our young students will be making history.

Meet Our Scholars

The Giving Challenge 2020 is here, and we want you to meet some of the students and families that we are impacting through our Future Leaders Academy programs in elementary, middle, and high schools.

It takes a community to raise the next generation of leaders and we are grateful for YOU, our mentors, donors, and community partners that support our mission.

UnidosNow will be participating in the Giving Challenge 2020 on April 28 and 29 noon to noon and we hope to count on your support again. You can donate on April 28 and 29 here.

Be The One to support our students to dream big and reach high.

Axel Soto and Kamila Kemenyfy-Rojas

Ximena Chafloque and Luis Guevara-Flores

Bella Macias and Vanessa Tase Sueiro

Xiomara Orozco and Igor Kitanovski

Axa Salas and Nicholas Coelho

Nahyara Piedrahita and Andrea Salazar

Genesis Martinez and Paula Rodriguez

A Mighty UnidosNow High School Club

Bella Macias and Xavier Rosado, Braden River High School UnidosNow Club President and Vice President.

The Braden River High School UnidosNow Club features Bella Macías as President, Xavier Rosado as Vice President, Sophia Innocenti as Secretary, Michael LaPointe as Treasurer, and Ayaka Quesen as Publicist. 

This mighty group of five work extremely hard to prepare an informative presentation every other Friday at their advisor’s—Mr. Kirchberg’s—classroom. The team usually meets on the Fridays when they do not have a club meeting, establishing their topic for the upcoming presentation. The club also consists of four committees: Community Outreach, FAFSA & Marketing, Workshop, and Essays, and each committee has their own committee chair.

Moreover, to encourage ESL students to participate in the club, they have an ESL Outreach Ambassador who bridges the communication between the two parties. The main goal of the club is to provide enough information to their members, where they feel confident enough to tackle the college application process. Whenever anyone has a question of any sort, they are always free to ask questions to any of the officers. 

  • Besides the many informative meetings the officers have scheduled, each committee has a particular goal they set for themselves for the year: 
  • The Community Outreach committee, with Orlando Chinchilla as chair, has aided the club in establishing a sister program with Oneco Elementary’s Boys & Girls Club. They volunteer there every other Thursday, where they offer help in tutoring for all sorts of academic topics, while also offering some support for the kids. 
  • The Essays committee has received multiple college essays at the beginning of the year, and Demi Dionela, the chair, has organized the committee members to edit specific essays depending on their strengths. The project was a success, and many seniors were grateful for the grammar and spelling checks that were provided by the club. 
  • The FAFSA & Marketing committee, with Fiorella Recchioni as chair, was instructed to create the FAFSA video during the first semester, where they helped the club win the prize of a pizza party. Overall, the video helped inform not only the club about the FAFSA application process, but many other students who follow them on social media. 
  • Finally, their Workshop committee, led by Khushbu Patel, is currently working on constructing a College/Job Resume Workshop, where any student from the school could attend the meeting in order to learn how to write a resume. The Club has also held a few workshops led by the officers team, including their College Kid Workshop, which featured previous BRHS students who gave advice to their members on college information during the potluck meeting.

This club has not only allowed students to grow and learn, but they are all able to work through their struggles and hopefully attend the college of their dreams. “When convincing my many friends to join the club, I always say that it’s worth it, because everyone needs help, even me,” says Macias.

My UnidosNow Story by Bella Macias

UnidosNow is turning 10 this year, and we are asking our scholars, parents, mentors, volunteers, staff, and board members to share how they first heard about UnidosNow and how they’re involved with our organizations. This month we highlight Bella Macias’ story:

“I first heard about UnidosNow from Mina Quesen who founded the club at my high school, and also participating in the Future Leaders Academy (FLA). Mina eventually became one of my closest friends and mentor. 

The FLA program allowed me to connect with those dedicated to help shaping my future, and putting me on the path to achieve my goals. Without the FLA program, I would’ve been completely lost when applying to colleges, especially since both my parents came from out of the country. This program paired me with a mentor that could relate to my struggles, as well as friends that could understand the problems I faced when applying to colleges.

The FLA program has not only guided me through the difficult terrains of applying to college, but the UnidosNow team has supported me in achieving my goals in becoming an astrophysicist with their personal statement workshops. This program has allowed me to feel more empowered to reach the stars and receive a PhD. in the future, while also giving me great feedback as I run the Braden River High School UnidosNow Club as the President.”

An Internship in Toledo, Ohio: Mina Quesen’s Experience

Future Leader Academy Alumnus Mina Quesen shares her experience as an intern with MidStory Media Thinkhub in Toledo, Ohio.

“’I have an internship in Ohio.’

‘Why?’

This was the conversation I had over and over in the weeks coming up to my internship with MidStory Media Thinkhub. What text doesn’t convey is that the “why” wasn’t a subject of, “Why do you have an internship?” but rather, “Why Ohio?” Ironically, this response was exactly why my internship existed at all.

In the last week of January, I had the opportunity to participate in a week-long internship with MidStory. This was part of a program hosted by Princeton’s Career center in which alumni host students for a day or week for a Princeternship. Where others had a job-shadowing experience, I would certainly say that my experience was a week for an intern. 

MidStory is a non-profit media thinkhub located in Toledo, Ohio, a city I didn’t know existed prior to January. The company was founded by three Princeton alumni and an MIT graduate in 2018 with the goal to “retain, cultivate, and attract the youth and public” to the post-industrial cities of the midwest through creative storytelling and solution-oriented projects. In other words, the MidStorians are working to revive the midwest starting with Toledo. The midwest which is often overlooked and talked about in major news located on the coasts. 

As I was scrolling through the options of companies I could get matched with, MidStory stood out because it combined my love writing but also a love I had formed by working with UnidosNow. Non-profit was so familiar and became so dear to me because of how much UnidosNow helped me throughout high school. I initially ranked MidStory as my second choice. In between the application and interview, I couldn’t help but think MidStory was a better fit. In the interview, I asked for my options to be reordered, putting MidStory first. 

Through my week with Midstory, it was odd that I felt closer to home in Toledo than I did in Princeton (it helped that I75 that I lived next to my entire life also ran through Toledo). At Princeton, you’re surrounded by so many people who have passion, but often they are work-oriented. They live day to day for classes and clubs and teeter on burn-out. Although I love my school and the people I’ve met here, it is sometimes easy for us to forget to do something we enjoy outside of academia. In Toledo, I was thrown back into an environment where people worked for passion. I was shown to how much work and detail goes into every day let alone every event. I saw first hand how much work volunteers do, how much is hand-made, how many hours are spent outside of a 9-5. I was reminded of how families are built and how they grow.

My responsibilities throughout the week were to help prepare for their Annual Review event and prepare my own self driven project about Toledo. I took to writing about how on the first day me and my fellow interns were dropped off in the middle of the city and told to explore. As I worked through this reflection, I had guidance with any question and support for any idea. When I wanted to create a map of our path, one of the MidStorians took the time to teach me about design and helped me produce a final project that I’m proud of. From the very start, we were welcomed into MidStory and taken under wing. We were invited to a dedicated staff and volunteer network. Non-profits are projects of passion and love, and my week in Toledo made me realize that even though the future is unclear, that environment of passion is one I want to find and contribute to. 

Beyond that, I got to explore Toledo, Ohio, which doesn’t seem like something I should be excited about but really is something I’m glad to have done. It’s a city of promise. It’s quiet, which is shocking considering there are world class attractions in Toledo, including a free art museum that challenges those in New York. It’s a city waiting for rebirth, and the Midtorians are taking the first steps toward it.”