Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Twins share top honors at PHS graduation

Sisters headed to Barnard in NYC for college

For the second time in 11 years, twin sisters were the valedictorian and salutatorian of Peekskill High School’s graduating class. Leonah Esteves, valedictorian, and Leysha Esteves, salutatorian, of the Class of 2023 will be attending Barnard College at Columbia University in September and have plans for careers in science and business. 

Born to immigrant parents who instilled the value of education from a very early age, the sisters have been recognized for their hard work, focus and dedication. Jennifer and Jenesis Tenesaca were the first siblings to receive the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian in 2012.

The Esteves sisters credit much of their success in school to their parents, Nelvis and Basy,  who have been their support system throughout the years. Nelvis Esteves immigrated to the United States from Goa, a state in western India. Basy followed a few years later. The young women were born in Mount Pleasant in 2005, but grew up in Peekskill. Basy works at Drum Hill Senior Living Community and Nelvis is a chemical operator at Sun Chemical Corporation. 

“Our mom was our first teacher. When we were younger, she taught us the small things she knew would prepare us for school. My dad was always the one driving us places like to our science fairs. He used to work night shifts but managed to make time for us. They were definitely vital in helping us get to where we are now,” said Leysha when interviewed by the Herald this past week. The sisters have two younger siblings in the school district. Lenita will be a sophomore in September and Larson is a rising eighth grader.  


The Esteves family on graduation night. Dad Nelvis on left, Leysha, Lenita, Leonah, mom Basy and Larson.

During their high school career the sisters participated in clubs and extracurricular activities and were the top officers in the National Honor Society, the Science National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta. 

Leonah was the vice president of the PHS Interact Club, and co-vice president of the senior class. Leonah was a member of the Superintendent’s Youth Advisory Council and assisted Hillcrest students with math and science activities. 

Leysha was a part of the Francisco Jiménez Chapter of La Sociedad Honoria Hispánica, the National English Honor Society, the New York State Mathematics Honor Society, and Mu Alpha Theta. Leysha was a member of the PHS Varsity Swim Team in her freshman year and both sisters participated in the Varsity Track and Field team. In addition, the sisters are members of the Goan Association of the Hudson Valley.  

The sisters began working as waitresses at Drum Hill Senior Living Community in 2019, the summer before they entered high school. When school began, they worked Saturdays and occasionally Sundays from 11 am to 8 pm. 

When asked how they managed to participate in clubs, play sports, keep their grades up while working, the sisters had similar answers. 

“For me, it was just keeping my goals in sight. Taking things day by day. It is a lot but if you break it down for yourself and figure out what you want to prioritize, it helps you get your things done,” said Leysha. 

“There were many late nights in our senior year with college applications and more rigorous classes. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. You’re putting in the work now to see the results later,” added Leonah, who was a science research student intern at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory for two years. She is particularly proud of the study she conducted that contributes a solution to a particular harmful growth of algae blooms which lead to fish mortality in the Arabian Sea. 

The sisters recounted many instances where they helped motivate each other and accomplished things they thought they couldn’t achieve. This past school year, Leysha’s work in water-related research gave her the opportunity to represent New York at the national level. 

Leysha went to Colorado School of Mines to compete for the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize. The Stockholm Junior Water Prize is the nation’s most prestigious youth competition for water-related research aiming to increase students’ interest in water issues and careers.  Leysha is the State Winner in New York for Stockholm Junior Water Prize and she is grateful for the experience she received from competing at the national competition in Colorado. 

Leysha at the Colorado School of Mines water competition, representing New York.

Science Research teacher Erum Hadi and Social Studies teacher Sharon Courtney, are two teachers the sisters believe helped shape them into the students they are today. The sisters took a science research course with Hadi for most of their high school careers, being pushed to pursue many different academic opportunities under her guidance.

“Ms. Hadi definitely saw us grow. She taught us a lot of skills like public speaking, how to write and construct research papers, and create presentations,“ said Leonah. “I am thankful for all the support and encouragement she has given me these past few years, and her recognition of my potential and capabilities,” said Leysha in an  interview with the school district. 

Courtney taught the sisters from sophomore year to senior in a variety of classes such as AP World History, AP African American Studies, Latin American and Caribbean History, and Classism, Racism, and Sexism. 

“I was excited to walk through her doors every single day. You’re just filled with so much knowledge. We had so many intellectual discussions,” said Leonah. The sisters believe Courtney’s classes do a great job of preparing students for college, stating she set the bar high for her students.

During their time in high school, the sisters experienced much success through the skills they developed and their work ethic.    According to Leonah, keeping her goals in mind, her priorities straight, and time-managing school, work, and family was key to her success.  

The outbreak of COVID-19 happened during their freshman year.  Their class had to adapt to remote learning. “Being virtual was definitely a new experience. Learning virtually requires self-discipline. You’re home by yourself and you have to be the one to motivate yourself to study.  The transition back to in-person may have been challenging for some students.  However, it was nice to be able to see our classmates and teachers again in junior year, ” said Leysha. 

The sisters, at left, with other scholarship winners at the Rotary’s annual scholarship luncheon.

At the 2023 PHS Senior Awards & Scholarships Night, both sisters were awarded scholarships to help defray the cost of their tuition to Barnard College in New York City. Barnard College is an undergraduate school affiliated with Columbia University and it is widely regarded as one of the most elite and prestigious colleges in the country. 

At Barnard, Leonah plans on majoring in economics. After graduating from Barnard, she  hopes to attend Columbia Business School to receive her Master’s degree and pursue a career in business.  Leysha is considering  studying biology with hopes of potentially becoming a pediatrician or an educator.

This story was updated on Friday, July 14 to reflect clarifications in material provided by the Peekskill City School District’s website about the valedictorian and salutatorian. 

About the Contributor
Jeffrey Merchan
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.