Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the Hispanic Heritage Month student contest winners and Excellence in Education Award recipients. This year’s theme was “Celebrating Untold Stories and Contributions of Hispanic Americans in Florida.” Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated every year in Florida from September 15 through October 15.

“Students from across the state created incredible essay and art submissions to celebrate the accomplishments of Hispanic Americans who call Florida home,” said First Lady DeSantis. “The lasting influence of key figures commemorated – from public servants to educators to frontline health care workers – show that Hispanic Americans continue to make a mark on our great state. Congratulations to the winners! The Governor and I thank those committed to telling the stories of our state’s Hispanic communities and their culture.”

“I join the Governor and First Lady in highlighting extraordinarily gifted young Floridians as well as teachers committed to inspiring our students to learn about the diversity of Hispanic culture,” said Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez. “Our children are our future, and it is promising to see the talent presented in the entries this year in celebration of Hispanic Americans in Florida.”

“Florida has been enriched by the many contributions made by our Hispanic community and we treasure the opportunity to highlight their achievements,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “This year, we take pride in heralding those who have given us much to celebrate in our local communities and should be acknowledged as we honor the legacy of the many through Hispanic Heritage Month. Congratulations to the winners of the art and essay contests, their work represents the countless contributions Florida’s Hispanic community has made to our great state.”

“Art can be a message or a vehicle by which an artist tells a story, evokes a feeling or shares a moment in time,” said Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, Florida’s Chief Cultural Officer. “Whether that art is a vibrant, visual representation of those stories and feeling, or a creatively written work that weaves together emotion and words, I’m proud of all the students who celebrated the untold stories and contributions of Hispanic Americans in Florida in our state’s history. I’m grateful to our First Lady for recognizing these talented young artists and ensuring these vibrant contributions of art and culture will continue for future generations.”

“With their vibrant culture and unique talents and skills, Hispanic Americans have contributed greatly to Florida’s rich history,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Corey Simon. “Thank you, Governor and First Lady DeSantis for hosting this year’s contests which honor and celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans across the Sunshine State.”

Award recipients are as follows:

The following student essay contest winners – one elementary, one middle and one high school student – earned a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

Student Essay Contest Winners

Lucille Procaccino, Shorecrest Preparatory School, Pinellas County

Lucille detailed what an inspirational influence her tennis coach, Jorge, has been in her life. Originally from Bolivia, Jorge is a kind and patient person who helps so many in their community whether it is on or off the tennis court.

Jackson Breeden, Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, Brevard County

Jackson’s essay, titled “Maria Mestre de los Dolores Andreu Lit the Way”, highlights how Florida’s first female Hispanic American member of the U.S. Coast Guard and first female St. Augustine lightkeeper paved the way in a position typically not held by women at that point in history.

Sophie Penafiel, TERRA Environmental Research Institute, Miami-Dade County

Sophie featured Operation Pedro Pan, the mass exodus of over 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors to the United States in the early 1960s. Her essay focused on Juan F. Pedro who immigrated to the U.S. through Operation Pedro Pan and is now a business owner in Miami.

Student Art Contest Winners

Violet Baltz, Sunlake Academy of Math & Science, Hillsborough County

Violet is a kindergartener who drew a picture she titled “Our Heritage.”

Eden Mejia, Florida Virtual School, Orange County

Eden is a first grader who drew a picture she titled “Notable Hispanic Floridians” depicting prominent Floridians such as United States Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa and Olympic swimmer Maritza Correia McClendon.

Julian Sanchez, Indian Trace Elementary School, Broward County

Julian is a second grader who drew a picture he titled “Mi Abuelo: Jose Maria Prieto Codina.”

Giahna Padilla, Marsh Pointe Elementary, Palm Beach County

Giahna is a third grader who drew a picture she titled “Celebrating Untold Stories and Contributions of Hispanic Americans in Florida” depicting health care professionals, teachers, first responders, and other key careers.

First Lady Casey DeSantis also honored three outstanding educators with the Excellence in Education Award. The recipients were nominated by students and peers.

Excellence in Education Award Winners

Lorraine Fernandez, Claywell Elementary School, Hillsborough County

Working as a tireless advocate for her school’s English language learners and their families, Lorraine spearheads Hispanic Heritage Month activities at her school to help enrich students allowing them to learn more about Hispanic culture. Her efforts include creating colorful displays and allowing students to experience Hispanic performances by storytellers, Flamenco dancers, and guitarists.

Celia Taylor, Seminole Middle School, Broward County

Celia Taylor created an English as a Second Language (ESOL) wing in the media center at Seminole Middle School. There, she works with English language learners, assisting them with online language programs, translating assignments for them and empowering students to become bilingual.

Libna Sierra, Master’s Academy of Vero Beach, Indian River County

Originally from Campeche, Mexico, Libna enjoys sharing her heritage and culture with students so that they can appreciate the Spanish language and culture. Not only does Libna contribute to Master’s Academy of Vero Beach as a Spanish and Technology teacher, but she volunteers in the community to assist Hispanic families.

To learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month, visit www.FloridaHispanicHeritage.com.



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