For his work as a leader in the Hispanic community, South County High School senior Christian Canales has been awarded a $1,000 from the Fairfax County Hispanic Leadership Alliance.
Canales will be attending James Madison University in the fall where he will study education, and plans to be a high school teacher.
“I want to help others and be a teacher, and help guide kids in the right direction. I just want to do the same for others that my teacher did for me. A lot of families don’t put education first, but I believe if you’re not educated, you won’t have a successful life,” Canales said.
Canales will be the first in his family to attend college, which he says is a huge deal for him.
“It’s not a weight on my shoulder, but I have to set the example,” Canales said. “I think me going to school and trying to show my cousins and other family that you need to go to school. I’m like a role model to them. I want them to go by my example and continue their education.”
CANALES, who is currently teaching a friend from El Salvador algebra so he can earn a GED, is a mentor in all aspects of his life. He has also volunteered at a therapeutic riding center in Lorton, helping children with disabilities learn how to play a sport. He plays varsity soccer and is on the school’s cross-country team. He is also involved with Key Club.
In his essay for the Hispanic Leadership Alliance scholarship, Canales wrote about what it means to be a leader.
“A leader is someone who puts everyone else in front of them and makes sure everyone has met their goals,” Canales said. “If a leader guides someone in the right direction, they are doing their job.”
Canales also addressed some ups and downs he overcame in order to arrive at the place he is today.
“My dad was out of a job before, and we struggled for a little, but I think I pushed through that,” Canales said. “I was determined to get into school.”
Canales says he has always wanted to be a leader and use his voice, and hopes to inspire others in the Hispanic community.
“I’m really proud of my heritage. Both of my parents immigrated to this country with nothing, and I’m very grateful for that. A lot of people in the United States don’t think Hispanic people are hard-working people, but I want to show them that we are,” he said. “As we grow as a nation and the Hispanic population grows, I know we will be able to prove that.”
The Hispanic Leadership Alliance is an organization for employees and residents of Fairfax County Public Schools that aims to promote understanding of Hispanic culture. The group encourages student involvement in advance academic programs and leadership positions, and also works to empower parents.
RUTH AZIMI, a parent liaison at Robinson Secondary School, helps with this mission of empowering parents by connecting Hispanic parents at Robinson to resources at the school. For example, Azimi serves as a translator for parents who don’t speak English.
“We have been able to connect with the Hispanic community here,” Azimi said. “It’s a great relationship that we have at the school.”
Canales said he is proud to share his heritage with students at his school. And at Robinson, fellow Hispanic Leadership Association scholarship recipients Claudia Torres and Carolina Castedo feel the same way.
“I think a big challenge was accepting myself and my culture, because just being here is different. There are so many people that don’t understand, so it took me awhile to fully accept it. Now, I listen to Spanish music, and am more accepting of myself,” Torres said.
The students will be honored at a banquet with the Hispanic Leadership Alliance and Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Garza on May 7.