Learning to speak English at Jackson Annex Elementary School in Hempstead was a life-changing experience for Anthony Martinez Benitez.

For a child born in San Miguel, El Salvador, who came to America speaking only Spanish, mastering English was more than than just a necessary task. It was a much-needed self-confidence booster and a reminder to pay forward his good fortune. 

“I had a teacher, Ms. Jovel, who gave private tutoring at the school. It took me about a year and a half to learn the language,” said Martinez Benitez, who came to America with his family when he was 6.

Martinez Benitez, now 17, happily discussed how far he has come during the Hempstead High School prom at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury last Thursday. He proudly wore his black suit adorned with a white floral boutonniere and was eager to celebrate by dancing the bachata -- which is similar to salsa -- with the hundreds of other students in attendance.

Martinez Benitez said that his Hempstead High School teachers motivated him to stay focused and learn from life lessons. Hempstead High guidance counselor Douglas Davis said Martinez Benitez is a student who inspires others.

“Anthony is amazing. He is exceptional. He is positive,” Davis said. “I had a student come into my office the other day who spoke limited English and Anthony helped the student in such a way to make him feel comfortable.”

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Explains Martinez Benitez, “I help others because I know what it is like to struggle. I have gotten so far in life because other individuals have helped me.”

A dedicated and hardworking student, Martinez Benitez tutored other students in chemistry, trigonometry and calculus while a student at Hempstead. He also created a website last November to help students with chemistry. The site provided chemistry reviews and sample questions.

Martinez Benitez plans to attend Hunter College in Manhattan with $29,000 in scholarships and wants to pursue a career in the medical field.

“Every student has the capability and potential to succeed. They just need a boost.”