A key word in today’s society is diversity. Gulliver Prep senior Maria Valentina knows about diversity – her mother is Argentinian, her father is from the U.S. and Valentina was born in London. She’s lived in six different countries.
She arrived in Miami just in time for ninth grade.
“My mom would speak to me in Spanish and my dad in English,” she says. “I’ve learned to embrace my special circumstance. I’m okay with not having to choose one or the other.”
That gives her credibility to be a part of the Sustained Dialogue group which is made up of students who meet weekly to talk about social issues that impact high school students in today’s society.
“We meet to unpack certain issues…to devise plans on how to we change these things,” she says. “Basically to talk to kids who are motivated and intelligent and sensitive to issues like racial issues. We are implementing ways to better the community.”
The group meets during lunch period. The leaders have undergone intensive courses on how to approach the process. They even tackle vocabulary and how the words impact others.
“What an offensive word, what’s an acceptable word,” she says.
Gulliver offers a diverse community for this type of dialogue. There are students from all over the world. Valentina says one of her friends is Syrian while another is from Venezuela.
Some discussions centered on ethnicity and race and explore questions such as why are there cliques at Gulliver.
“I’m happy that I was able to participate,” she says. “Even though we are all open minded people. You are not speaking to prove a point, you are speaking to understand why people are speaking the way they do.”
She says at the beginning, the group talked among themselves, while they acclimated. The plan calls for expansion to the rest of the high school community. And later, bring it to the lower school to start the process with kindergarteners.
“To introduce the idea that there are different ways to solve problems and talking is one of the best ones,” she says. “I’m very grateful for the experience. It’s been very rewarding.”
She’s involved in the Baby Bulls program, where students go to Holmes Elementary two Saturdays a month to help the children read. She usually works with the same child, which she believes is more productive than switching up each week.
“It’s a huge advantage to my buddy if we are together as many times as possible,” Valentina says. “I understand her, what she reads, what books she’s interested in.”
The Baby Bulls program expanded this year to include more high schools. Another change is that non-International Baccalaureate students are now involved.
As president of the National Honor Society, Valentina plans monthly events for members. NHS members gain community service hours for participating.
“I try to have a monthly event planned,” she says. “The majority of events are done within the school. On Back to School Night, we send members to help orient the parents. We have them posted at different stations around the school. To help with any questions.”
Valentina is also involved in Best Buddies and the dance club.
For her future, Valentina says she wants nothing to do with math, but other than that, she loves to learn about everything.
“I love international relations,” she says. “I love politics. I love studying it. I love economics.”
She also loves the arts. She paints, she sings and she dances.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld