Some 23 Cross Keys High School seniors who have participated in the LAA’s year-round program for Latino youth since the sixth grade will be graduating from high school in May.

The LAA’s Eliezer Vélez, who has worked with the students for the past seven years, says that 100% of the students in the program, known as the Latino Youth Leadership Academy, will graduate. Many have already been accepted to college and others are waiting to hear. Some of the colleges and universities the students will be attending include Georgia State University, Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia College in Milledgeville, Mercer University and The George Washington University.

“These students never gave up,” Vélez said. “No matter their personal situation, they were able to overcome any obstacles, and they will be the first in their families to pursue higher education.”

The students, together with their parents, were recognized by the LAA at a festive mock graduation ceremony last week.

Vélez said among the program participants there are future pharmacists, social workers, engineers, nurses and some pursuing technical careers.

The Latino Youth Leadership Academy offers 280 Latino middle- and high-school students at six predominantly Latino schools in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties year-round programs to ensure they stay in school and graduate from high school. The program offers students academic support and tutoring, mentoring, leadership development, visits to college campuses, cultural activities and talks on a variety of topics. Involving parents has been key to the program’s success.

This year’s graduating class of 23 students at Cross Keys is the first cohort from the LYLA program to graduate from high school.

“We are very proud of our students and their accomplishments,” said Vélez. “We want them to do well, but we also want them to be successful citizens and give back to their community.”