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A giver with spirit

(ran PC edition)

Gabriela Chavez is all fired up. After attending the National Conference for Migrant and Immigrant Youth in Washington, D.C., she's ready and raring to pass the message on to her peers that there is hope after high school.

"We are the leaders, and we have to help our community," Gabriela said.

A lot of Hispanic students get discouraged, Gabriela said. College is out of reach for many because their status as illegal immigrants bars them from receiving government financial aid.

"I hear them talking about dropping out," she said. "I can't tell them that they have to stay in school. I can't make them do that. But I can tell them about the alternatives, like dropout prevention programs."

Besides touring the capital and seeing the sites, Gabriela learned more about those programs and scholarship opportunities for Hispanic students at the conference. She was one of 10 Florida students selected to attend the conference after being nominated by Ramiro Tejada, the migrant advocate at Pasco High School.

She was a perfect choice, said Lucile Rom, the career specialist at Pasco High.

"Gabriela has had that spirit of giving for a while," Rom said. "In her younger grades, she helped tutor migrant students. She's a bright child with a great heart and a good character."

"It's always been a pleasure for me to help," Gabriela said.

She has racked up community service hours with the school's NJROTC program and the Interact service club. She also has been a member of the National Honor Society, Student Council, Teen Court and weightlifting and track teams. Last year, Gabriela was Pasco High's nominee for Disney's Dreamers and Doers Award.

Because of her hopes of going to college, Gabriela has toughened her course load by taking honors and Advanced Placement classes.

"I started out taking ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) classes, but I knew I could do better," she said.

And although the AP and honors classes are more difficult, "you can do it if you study. That's what you have to do," she said.

Gabriela hopes to make an impact at her school by possibly starting a club for Hispanic students.

"I think if we provide information _ a program or a club _ we can help students who are thinking about dropping out. Information is the basic thing that they need," she said.

And while she helps out at school, she hopes to set an example for her younger brother and sister at home.

"I'm always studying," she said. "And when my sister and brother are watching the TV, I tell them, "Can you be reading instead of watching TV?' "