Vista High’s Bianca Hernandez Wins Princeton Prize In Race Relations
Ray Huard ….Blanca Hernandez noticed that some of her fellow students at Vista High School kept to themselves and didn’t go to school events like dances and football games.
They were lost, “even when it comes to simple things,” Blanca said.
On school spirit day, which is sort of a day-long pep rally, they had no idea what was happening and why others were wearing crazy clothes.
“Coming to a new school is hard enough, let alone having to learn a new language,” Blanca said. “Although we are a very diverse high school, there isn’t diversity in that these students aren’t collaborating or talking to students who are from other backgrounds.”
Blanca and her friend, Maria Patino , set out to break down the barriers that kept those students from participating in what Blanca called the full “American high school experience.”
They formed the Panther’s International Club, which focuses on helping English-learners improve their language, social and academic skills.
As a result, those once-isolated students are now very much a part of the Vista High School scene, said Luis Landaverde, the club’s faculty advisor.
“The kids just gravitate toward her,” Landaverde said of Blanca. “She just has this really energetic, welcoming demeanor. She wasn’t afraid to approach the students who were new here.”
For her part, Blanca was awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations and was among about 20 students from across the nation invited to attend a symposium on race relations at Princeton University.
The award “is given to high school students across the country who have advanced the cause of positive race relations in their schools or communities,” the Princeton Prize in Race Relations of San Diego said in awarding the prize to Blanca.
When she first approached the English-learning students at Vista High, “a lot of them were shocked that I speak Spanish,” said Blanca, who was classified as an English-learning student in elementary school.
“I felt a connection with these students from my family,” Blanca said.
She said that her father came to this country as a child and, like those students at Vista High, never felt that he fit in with the English-speaking students in high school.
Even for those who are fluent in English and Spanish, as she is, Blanca said there have been times when people looked down on her “because I was different.”
“I remember going to a (school) open house with my dad and we were the only minorities,” Blanca said.
She said one of her goals has been to disprove stereotypes that are demeaning.
Among other things, she has served on the Associated Student Body as a class representative and co-lead for publicity, ran cross country and track for her first three years in high school, is a member of the California Scholarship Federation, an International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate, and AVID Club president.
Even with all her activities, Blanca has earned a 4.45 grade point average. She plans to attend the University of San Diego in the fall with a major in political science and a minor in Spanish and English. Her goal is to become a civil rights lawyer.
Throughout high school, Blanca concentrated on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses but had an epiphany last summer when she was a counselor at the American Association of University Tech Trek, a summer camp aimed at developing a passion among young girls for STEM careers.
“I realized it wasn’t something I was enjoying,” Blanca said. “I decided I wanted to pull back away from STEM.”
Still, Blanca said that doesn’t want to give up entirely on STEM, so minoring in economics will allow her to continue advancing her math skills.
Instead of the career in biology she had envisioned, Blanca decided she’d rather to something to help minorities, and becoming a lawyer seems like a good option.
The law is a career that would suit Blanca, Landaverde said.
“She would be a perfect lawyer. She talks a lot. She will talk your ear off, “Landaverde said with a chuckle. “She’s going to be successful no matter what she does.”