People in Your Neighborhood: High Tech grad strikes Girl Scout Gold for making travel accessible to students
Hailey Pryor of Point Loma earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for creating a sister city exchange program to Spain.
Hailey Pryor might not make a lot of noise, but her actions speak volumes.
The Point Loma resident and 2020 graduate of High Tech High International received the Girl Scout Gold Award this summer for creating a sister city exchange program at High Tech High. The honor is reserved for those who “create sustainable projects that impact local and global issues,” according to Girl Scouts San Diego.
"[Pryor] is very quiet — so she moves very quietly — but she really does do a lot of work and gets the job done. She’s totally dedicated,” said Penelope Bledsoe, a volunteer for the San Diego International Sister City Association.
Sister Cities International defines a sister city as a “long-term partnership between two communities in two countries” that is established through an official agreement between the highest elected or appointed official in each city. The sister city relationship is aided by independent volunteers, nonprofit representatives and others.
SanDISCA promotes cross-cultural awareness and friendship with San Diego’s 16 sister cities. The partnerships include initiatives in education, events and exchanges.
After Pryor took a month-long visit to Tulancingo, Hildalgo, Mexico, as a high school freshman — organized through the Pleasanton Tulancingo Sister City Association in the city where her grandparents live — Pryor was inspired to bring a similar program to her high school in Point Loma.
“My whole aim was to make [travel] accessible to students, regardless of income,” Pryor said, adding that many of her classmates couldn’t afford to visit other countries.
To create the exchange program, Pryor and her mother, Denise, reached out to SanDISCA in July 2018, when Pryor was a high school junior. Because of her previous experience in Mexico, Pryor was interested in setting up the new program in a Spanish-speaking country, so she was drawn to the possibility of partnering with one of San Diego’s sister cities, Alcalá de Henares, Spain.
The organization directed them to Bledsoe, president of the Alcalá San Diego Sister City Society. Bledsoe said she was delighted by Pryor’s interest in creating an exchange program in Alcalá, noting that she had been trying launch one on her own for a long time. Though Bledsoe helped connect Pryor to important contacts, including a Spanish high school teacher, Pryor completed all the legwork, Bledsoe said.
A total of 50 students — 25 from San Diego and 25 from Alcalá — signed up for the exchange program. Each participant was partnered with a student from the other country and would spend two weeks living with the other student’s family.
To make the travel affordable for everyone, Pryor organized various fundraisers — such as Paella Night at a local yacht club — that ended up covering nearly all expenses.
At the end of January 2019, the High Tech High students took off on their long-anticipated two-week trip to Alcalá. During their time abroad, students participated in activities planned by the Spanish students, including visiting historical landmarks and museums and occasionally attending class with the Spanish students. They also took a few day trips to Madrid, a 20-minute train ride away.
“I think one of my biggest takeaways was just being able to connect with a whole new family ... my host family. I learned a lot about the culture there,” Pryor said. Though her host family was bilingual, she embraced the opportunity to practice her Spanish, she said.
"[Alcalá] was probably one of the most fun trips I had ever been on. ... Also, just seeing my friends be able to connect with other kids there and [knowing] all the hard work and struggles we went through to get there [made me feel like] it all paid off,” she said.
Three months later, the American kids returned the hosting favor. High Tech High students took the Spanish visitors to Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art and Mission San Diego de Alcalá. They also went on a harbor cruise, visited High Tech High classes and participated in a very American tradition: a beach bonfire and barbecue, complete with hot dogs and s’mores.
“That’s what [SanDISCA] works on — we work on people-to-people [contact] ... it’s called citizen diplomacy,” Bledsoe said. “It’s getting citizens to serve as diplomats to get to know, to travel, to talk to people from other places — to better understand other cultures and other people.”
Pryor was “totally dedicated to that,” Bledsoe added.
Pryor was one of 66 Girl Scouts from San Diego and Imperial counties to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award in a virtual ceremony June 20, which is available to watch online at sdgirlscouts.org/gold.
"[Pryor] is a very deserving young woman who, like I said, is quiet and demure — so she doesn’t call any attention to herself,” Bledsoe said. “I think sometimes those people who work so quietly and so diligently don’t get the credit they deserve.”
Though Pryor graduated from High Tech High this year, the exchange program will continue through the efforts of Bledsoe and Pryor’s mother. However, because of travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, next year’s exchange is up in the air.
Pryor is now a freshman at UCLA majoring in biology. Due to the pandemic, she still lives in Point Loma and takes her college classes online. But she said she’s excited about moving to Los Angeles in the future.
In her free time she enjoys gymnastics, art and, of course, traveling. Pryor is looking forward to planning her next trip, with countries such as Italy and Chile at the top of her list. She also plans to study abroad during her time at UCLA.
“You get so used to your everyday life ... when you go somewhere else and you experience different cultures and ways of life, it’s eye-opening,” Pryor said. “It’s really cool to see how other people live and and take new things from that.”