The Sánchez Scholar program family has gotten large over the years and on Sunday, May 28, at the Goodman Community Center, with five new scholars officially being added at the 2023 Sánchez Scholars Celebration, it will become even larger.
“As of now, we have we’ve offered our services to over 90 students,” Lesli Vázquez, coordinator of the high school Sánchez Scholars Program, tells Madison365. “We are a family. It really feels like that when we have these events where we can all gather … the feeling is great. It makes the kids feel like they’re part of something, like they’re important, like the matter, like they’re seen.”
The Sánchez Scholars Program, now 23 years old, is currently celebrating three high school graduates who will be moving on to really big things in the coming years. The program is also celebrating the announcement of five new Sánchez Scholars — students who are nominated in eighth grade and interviewed and selected each year by a selection committee.
Retired UW-Madison Professor Roberto Sánchez initially established a scholarship fund at the Madison Community Foundation in collaboration with the MMSD to inspire academic excellence by local Latino/a youth and to build a pathway for those in high school and postsecondary institutions to achieve their academic dreams.
Roberto G. Sánchez Scholarships are now offered to students at three different institutions — MMSD, Madison College and UW-Madison. In 2008, Professor Sánchez initiated a scholarship through the Madison College (MATC) Foundation that supports students pursuing liberal arts transfer or associate degree programs there. Nearly 50 students have received funding in the past 15 years. In the fall of 2011, the University of Wisconsin-Madison launched its Sánchez Scholars program with the selection of its first two Scholars. Twenty Scholars, including eight MMSD graduates, have participated to date.
“This is just such an amazing program. I think this year, more than ever, I just felt really indebted to Professor Sanchez because it’s been three years [during the pandemic] that have taught us what’s important and what’s not. And I missed that connection that we have with the families,” Vázquez says. “Again, it’s not just about the kids going on to college, and we’re gonna celebrate them and recognize them and support them, but you get to meet some incredible families through this program and see how the effects that it has on the students participating in the program trickles down. So we have younger siblings who are affected, we have parents who have called us to say, ‘Hey, I want to go back to school. How do I go about this … do you know of any programs?’ The annual celebration is just a wonderful time to kind of reboost, re-energize and continue moving forward.”
Vázquez has been with the Sánchez Scholars program for 20 years, starting as a volunteer in 2004, and has seen so many students come through the program over the years that they eventually form the large Sánchez Scholars family.
Sánchez Scholars receive financial support to help cover costs such as computers, graphing calculators, supplies, extracurricular activities and fees for summer enrichment programs, according to the Friends of Sánchez Scholars website, and staff members monitor academic progress and help ensure pre-college planning. They provide ongoing mentoring for students and guidance for parents and guardians. High school Sánchez Scholars also take advantage of community volunteer opportunities, internships and workshops on a range of topics.
“We have three Sánchez Scholars seniors we will be celebrating on Sunday who are all college-bound. We have one who is going to UW-Madison through the Center for Academic Excellence,” Vázquez says. “Then we have another student who is going to UW-Milwaukee. And we have another one who is going to Columbia University. So we’re really excited.”
The 2023 Sánchez Scholars Seniors are:
⦿ Yuceli Guerrero Murillo, a graduate of Madison East High School Class of 2023, who will be headed to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to study psychology.
⦿ Gersely Ríos, a graduate of Vel Phillips Memorial High School Class of 2023, who will be headed to Columbia University to study sociology and human rights.
⦿ Elías Ramírez, a graduate of Vel Phillips Memorial High School Class of 2023, who will be headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison/Center for Academic Excellence to study biology.
On Sunday, the Friends of Sánchez Scholars will gather to celebrate the accomplishments of these graduating seniors, while also welcoming in the incoming freshman class.
“It’s been really unfortunate with all the COVID stuff we’ve had that a couple of classes did not get to be celebrated in what we call a family-style celebration,” Vázquez says. “And that’s when we invite the seniors to get recognized and the newly selected class to be welcomed.
“We always also invite all the other kids who are already in the program and some past students to come and speak and present to some of the newer scholars,” she continues. “So the Sánchez Scholars Celebration is just a really nice event where we get to be that family that Professor Sánchez always wanted. He was big on honoring his mom and dad and all the sacrifices that they made in order for him to be able to complete his education. So we’re just really lucky to be able to call our program a family and give that sense to our scholars and to their families, as well. So it’s important to have events like this.”
Vázquez says that they will take time in the program to honor Sánchez Scholars who were not able to be celebrated in person because of the pandemic.
“COVID took that away for a couple of years. So we’ve also invited some of the scholars who didn’t get celebrated in those years in that family style to come join us. We’re hoping to do something for them, as well.”
The five newly accepted Sánchez Scholars include:
⦿ Daisy Ann Correa Figueroa, who was nominated by Badger Rock Middle School counselor Breanna Adams, will attend Madison West High School.
⦿ Brizeida Tamayo Xelhua, who was nominated by Tuyet Cullen, a Whitehorse Middle School 8th grade teacher, will attend Madison La Follette.
⦿ Gerónimo Murcia Buitrago, who was nominated by Benjamin Serwe, a Toki Middle School academic and career plan coordinator, who will attend Vel Phillips Memorial High School
⦿ José Ponce Acevedo, who was nominated by O’Keeffe Middle School Counselor & PBIS Coach Sigrun Paust, and will attend Madison East High School
⦿ Jessica Mena Reyes, who was nominated by Hamilton Middle School Counselor Boyd Snyder, will attend Madison West High School
Each Madison public middle school annually nominates an eighth-grade candidate for this award. A selection committee chooses three-to-five students to participate during their four years of high school. Vázquez says that even though they have to narrow that down every year to three-to-five Sánchez Scholars, “they are all winners.”
“It’s really hard because we get 12 excellent kids who come to interviews and we always tell them at the end of the interview that they deserve this scholarship. It’s not their fault that resources do not allow us to provide service to all 12, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to be there,” Vázquez says. “They’re there because people in their school saw their potential and they thought they would be the best candidate to represent their school, so they should feel really, really proud.”
It has been the support from the community that the Sánchez Scholars program has been able to grow over the years … and hopefully, continue to grow. The 2023 Sánchez Scholars Celebration is the signature event for the program that helps raise visibility, and hopefully, more money for the students and the program.
“Our hope is to one day find a way where we can make it so that we can just take everybody who gets nominated from each of the middle schools,” Vázquez says. “We do appreciate the support the Sanchez Scholars have gotten so far and the Sánchez Scholars Celebration is a great day because we know that we’re getting new kids and we’re meeting their families. It really warms your heart.”
The 2023 Sánchez Scholars Celebration will be held Sunday, May 28, noon, at the Goodman Community Center.