"I was able to nominate four students who best showed leadership qualities and had a strong performance in the classroom," Arce said. "I thought it was an excellent opportunity if our students were eligible to participate."
Arce sent the names of her top students, namely Joseph Bernardo, Priya Bacchus, Jennifer O'Kane and Lyliette Aquino, to the JrNYLC to see if any of the students would be selected.
"I figured I would give it a chance and see what happened," Arce said. "Hopefully, I thought one of them would be picked."
Arce was wrong - all four were selected to participate.
Incredibly, the students had no idea that Arce had nominated them until they received a letter of notification from the JrNYLC that they were selected last November.
"The letter was so fancy when it came," said Bacchus, a North Bergen resident. "I never expected to receive anything like it."
"I was totally caught off-guard," said Bernardo, a resident of West New York. "I thought I was getting some sort of report. When I read what it was, I was so excited that I wanted to tell all my friends."
"I had never been to Washington before," said Aquino, a resident of West New York. "So I was very excited and very surprised."
The four students, along with Jeanne McGuire of North Bergen, Jennifer's mother, and Joseph Bernardo's mother, traveled to the National 4H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, last week for the week-long conference.
Themed "The Legacy of American Leadership," the conference introduced the 200 young people to the rich tradition of leadership throughout American history, while helping them develop their own leadership skills. They participated in educational activities and presentations led by individuals in high-level positions as well as young people who exercise leadership skills within their communities.
They were also able to visit many historic monuments and national sites during their weeklong stay, including Colonial Williamsburg. They were also visited by several members of the United States Congress from Georgia, Delaware and Wisconsin.
The students were able to examine the impact of leadership throughout many periods of American history, including the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement.
One of the activities that the students participated in involved a breakdown of the different characteristics of leadership, namely character, problem solving, perseverance, motivation, teamwork and courage, through different stages of American history. The students were broken up into different groups, each of which focused on one characteristic.
McGuire was quite impressed with the way the children were treated.
"I was actually quite surprised," McGuire said. "There were so many activities for them to do. They were kept busy from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. They did a lot of work, but they had a lot of fun as well. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be better than what I thought."
The young leaders of tomorrow certainly were motivated by the participation in the conference.
"I want to get more involved in my community now," Aquino said. "I want to work in government as an advisor."
"I want to be a teacher," O'Kane said. "I learned a lot that I can teach my students."
Bernardo isn't sure what the future holds.
"But I want to do something that will help other people," Bernardo said. "I have a better understanding now of how my leadership can help others."
"I just want to be a role model to others," Bacchus said. "I aspire to become a good leader."
Arce was impressed with the way her students presented themselves. "They are all very good students," Arce said. "They all want to go far beyond what's in front of them. I'm looking forward to working with them in the future."