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CUSD honors 17 who overcame obstacles
What do a missing limb, language barriers, hearing loss, learning disabilities, an absent or jailed parent, child abuse, and broken homes have in common? They are just some of the obstacles that 17 Ceres students have had to endure and overcome, for which they were recognized at Friday's annual Every Student Succeeding breakfast.

Each year the Ceres Unified School District has its schools chose a student who has to endure a difficult set of circumstances - whether it be medical or family problems, learning disabilities and other unfortunate life experiences - and who progressed past them.

The 17 honored were:

• Anthony Aleman -Teneyuque, an Adkison Elementary School first-grader;

• Austin Doty, a Westport Elementary School sixth-grader;

• Terron Sadler, a Carroll Fowler fifth-grader;

• Robert Schmachtenberger, a Don Pedro third-grader;

• Monika Yousif, a Blaker-Kinser Junior High School eighth-grader;

• Paityn Honberger, a Virginia Parks fifth-grader;

• Melisa Espindola, An Argus High School senior;

• Erynn Knight, a Whitmore Charter first-grader;

• Fernando Felix, a Sam Vaughn fourth-grader;

* Jared Germann, a Joel J. Hidahl sixth-grader;

• Michel Gonzalez, Sinclear first-grader;

• Kenyona Atkins, a La Rosa fourth-grader;

• Anthony Osuna, a Mae Hensley Junior High School seventh-grader;

• Julie Grijalva, a Caswell second-grader;

• Alex Clarks Jr., a Walter White second-grader;

• Angel Parra Gomez, a Central Valley High School junior;

• Jessica Wences, a Ceres High School senior.

The students were treated to breakfast with school officials and family members and each were called up on stage as their struggles were shared. Each one received accolades from Stanislaus County Schools Superintendent Tom Changnon, CUSD Supt. Scott Siegel and Assistant Supt. Mary Jones, Mayor Chris Vierra and officials representing state and federal officials.

Austin Doty

When Austin Doty started out at Westport Elementary School in the first grade, many teachers wondered if he would be successful. He had a hard time focusing and being on task and had poor attendance. He didn't qualify to Special Education. The problem, school officials would learn, was that Austin came from a broken home were drugs were abused and his father went in and out of jail.

Jeffery Staat, his sixth grade teacher, remembers Austin from that first grade year and has seen a major turnaround. Today, Austin has channeled his exuberance into a passion for learning, being successful, and helping others. Austin is always taking time to help another student understand the lessons and to produce top notch work. Austin has perfect attendance this year.

On the Spring 2010 CSTs, Austin achieved the scores of "proficient" on the science and the English test, and "advanced" on the math test.

Terron Sadler

Terron Sadler went from a hearing-impaired student who acted up in class as a special education student in 2007 to a student who cares about learning and doing his best.

Three years ago, Terron suffered from poor organizational skills and had a negative attitude when it came to school. His scores were below those of his peers and he became the class "clown." He would forget work at home, not finish homework and class assignments.

In 2008, Terron moved from Walter White to Carroll Fowler Elementary School and continued to act out and rushed through class work. His teacher, Carol Goehring, had many talks with Terron about how he was a big guy on campus and it was up to him to make the right choices in order to make his own success. While re-doing the fourth grade, his self confidence increased greatly, due in part to Ms. Goehring's care and concerns.

In the past, Terron made grades which had to be modified so he could still have passing grades. In his fourth grade year, he was able to meet his benchmarks and did not need to have his grades modified since he was earning passing grades on his own. He became more responsible with wearing his hearing aid daily. With his hearing aid in, Terron was able to focus on processing information rather than decoding what was said from the speaker's voice.

Today, Terron exudes confidence. Before Terron was paired up with higher functioning students to help him stay on and understand the at hand. Now he is a helpful student who is paired up with other students who have weaknesses where Terron was strong.

Melisa Espindola

Melisa Espindola has done remarkably well at Argus High, improving from a troubled student academically to one who consistently earns credits to get back on track for graduation. She came to Argus High in 2009 as a junior, experiencing academic failure at another continuation high school. In addition, she was a teen age mom to eight-month-old daughter Sophia.

Her early childhood challenges included the fact that only Spanish was spoken in her home and the special education student moved frequently after her parents divorced when she was 7. Melisa attended 14 different schools in Ceres, Keyes and Modesto.

Now motivated, Melisa has worked hard to play catch up. She has passed both parts of the California High School Exit Exam and earned 84.5 credits during the past school year and has earned 47 credits during the first half of this year.

Melisa has taken advantage of such programs as the After School Program, the Argus Early Head Start, community service, work experience and Project YES to earn additional credits towards graduation.

Melisa is employed at the CUSD's Child Welfare and Attendance office during afternoons. Co-workers say Melisa's positive attitude and a sunny disposition is contagious.

Her supervisor has high praise for her work and her contributions to the office. Melisa has won awards through Project YES for excelling in the parenting program component. Melisa continues to use her office skills as a student aide in the Argus front office during one period.

Anthony Aleman -Teneyuque

Born without part of his left arm but overcame his handicap - and cruel comments and jeers of other students - Anthony Aleman -Teneyuque become a bright and shining personality on the campus of Adkison Elementary.

Anthony has become skillful in overcoming the absence of a hand and uses his upper left arm to hold items. His supportive family helped him how to achieve independence. When classmates needed help opening milk cartons, Anthony figured out how to use his upper left arm immediately to open his.

He has managed to deal with students' curiosity about his missing limb. Anthony is respectful to all who are curious and will often address jeering or staring with a smile and explains, "I was born like this."

Anthony has made many friends and enjoys playing football with them, and doesn't seem to allow anything to hold him back. He also does not seek attention or ask for help. He perseveres until he has learned how to accomplish the new skill that he wants to learn.

Anthony has become a Cub Scout after working with his teacher, Mrs. Starkweather, who is a Cub Scout leader and another student in Cub Scouts.

Robert Schmachtenberger

Now a Don Pedro third-grader, Robert went from a troubled, angry and scowl-faced student to one who is pleasant, enjoys school, his teacher and classmates, works well in class and completes his work.

In his first and second grades, Robert was issued 14 discipline referrals for inappropriate behaviors and this year only has received two referrals for minor misbehaviors. He once was openly hostile in facial and body mannerism.

His transformation came as the result of a teamwork effort of adults in his life. He was tested and qualified for the resource program and was referred for counseling. A plan was formulated between home and school and a physician offered a medication regimen. He did well with consistent structure and expectations as he lives with his grandparents.

School officials are happy with Robert's new outlook and effort.

Monika Yousif

Officials at Blaker-Kinser Junior High School note that eighth-grader Monika Yousif, 13, has made an amazing turnaround since coming to Ceres from Greece last year speaking only Greek and Assyrian. When she arrived as seventh-grader she had a difficult time academically and socially and earned only an overall grade point average of 1.571 for her first year. Experiencing cultural shock, Monika rarely smiled and rarely spoke to others and usually hide behind classrooms during lunch to avoid social activities. Teachers and administrators also spent a great deal of time counseling Monika when she refused to go to class because she was overwhelmed with the new information she was presented with on a daily basis. She exhibited a strong will and the first word of English she spoke was "no."

A remarkable change occurred at the beginning of this school year. Monika is now interested in school, has a group of friends she hangs out with during lunch and has even become a social butterfly. She now smiles on a daily basis, says "hello" to teachers and staff and talks of going to college when she graduates high school. Her GPA has improved to a 2.857 and her confidence in herself academically and socially has improved greatly. Teachers describe her as a student who is always willing to do her best, a pleasure to have in class and is a charming, bright and warm student.

Paityn Honberger

Although she has suffered from Type 1 diabetes since she was three years old, Virginia Parks Elementary fifth-grader Paityn Honberger has excelled as an outstanding student and leader on campus.

With the support of her family, educators, and caring students, Paityn has learned to face obstacles with confidence, independence, and responsibility. Recently, she earned a perfect grade point average and received an honor roll certificate for academic excellence and a life skill award for responsibility. Her kindness and bubbly personality draws students to her and she was recently elected as social coordinator in a Student Council election. Paityn has since spearheaded several spirit days and participated in a canned food drive and Treats for Troops.

As a member of the school-wide BLAST team, Paityn helps promote school spirit and present a positive approach to teaching life skills by creating videos or performing at school assemblies. For the past two years she also arrives at school early to serve as sergeant in the Panther Patrol to help create a safer environment for students.

Paityn's determination to become a better dancer has granted her numerous trophies, awards, and scholarships, even performing in front of the entire school with the Principal in a Taylor Swift lip sync.

Paityn wants to become a veterinarian because she loves to take care of animals.

Erynn Knight

First-grader Erynn Knight has shown more independence in choosing positive avenues when interacting with her peers inside and outside of the classroom at Whitmore Charter School. At the beginning of the school year, there were many times when Erynn chose to hit or use unkind words. She has been seeing a counselor on site and school staff has tried to work consistently with her and her mother to teach and reinforce positive choices. Erynn has been on the right track and ending her days with excellent behavior.

Erynn is also showing greater confidence and trying harder in school work compared to the beginning of the year. She struggles in accomplishing grade level tasks correctly, however Erynn has improved with her attitude in attempting the work she is asked to complete.

Her teacher stated: "I think that Erynn is really trying to be kinder to her peers and to work to do the best of her ability."

Fernando Felix

Fernando Felix, a fourth-grader in Mrs. Lori Akins's fourth grade class at Sam Vaughn Elementary, now flourishes both socially and academically after a series of struggles.

Fernando and his twin sister were born prematurely in San Diego but spent their first seven years in Mexico. During that time, Fernando's family moved at least once a year. The most challenging move, however, was back to California after the beginning of second grade. His lack of English-speaking abilities caused him anxiety and he was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Even so, Fernando has shown steady academic achievement, growing a CST level each year.

Along with generalized anxiety disorder, Fernando was also diagnosed with several severe food allergies and ADHD. When medications prescribed to help control Fernando's ADHD symptoms did not help him, his mother conducted her own research to figure out what else might be ailing him. Her suspicions were confirmed when Fernando was diagnosed with Asperger's last year.

A team approach was formulated to held Fernando in the classroom where classmate interactions were causing him to be unhappy. The team decided to educate other students about what Asperger's is and how they can better relate to and understand Fernando.

"Fernando as a student who is always kind and helpful to others," said Mrs. Akins. "Fernando is determined and never gives up. He also takes on new vocabulary words with gusto and maintains a positive attitude."

Jared Germann

Hidahl Elementary School sixth-grader Jared Germann, who suffers from autism, has shown amazing growth in academics, social interactions and behavior, during his six years at the school.

As a first-grader, his behavior was such that it was necessary occasionally to have the students leave the classroom. Today Jared no longer disrupts class and is making progress in academics, too. Due to strong support he receives at home, Jared is able to excel in spelling, work independently in math, and pass Accelerated Reader tests on books. He even made the school Honor Roll.

Even though Jared receives many "pull-out" services, he keeps up with his daily class assignments with some modifications.

Jared has learned to interact appropriately in play and conversation. For example, when working in class, Jared will say to his aide as assistance is offered, "No thank you, Sergey. I can do it on my own!"

Jared successfully attended Foothill Horizons Outdoor Education School in October, spending four days and three nights away from home and participating in hikes and classes, making fire and playing games.

Michel Gonzalez

Losing her father at a young age, Sinclear Elementary School first-grader Michel Gonzalez had difficulty in kindergarten. Mrs. Hendryx recommended that Michel repeat kindergarten to strengthen her skills before moving to first grade.

However, during her second year in kindergarten, her mother developed hepatitis and was very ill most of the year. Despite her illness, mom was very supportive and she and teacher Mrs. Garcia provided guidance and instruction that helped her excel.

Michel is a hard worker and is making very good progress academically. The difficulties Michel faced could have had a detrimental impact, but she is very positive and willing to meet the challenges she faces with the determination to succeed.

Kenyona Atkins

La Rosa fourth-grader Kenyona Atkiins is reportedly unrecognizable as the troubled, shy and socially awkward girl that she was years ago. Through a number of strong and caring adults. Kenyona is flourishing today.

Kenyona and her four siblings were taken away from their parents early in their lives and farmed out to foster care. In two separate placements, Kenyona was often neglected, hungry, left outside, and seldom taken to school or a doctor. However, Kenyona was placed with Joe and Betty Jewell, who opened their home to all three of the Atkins children four years ago. Now her legal guardian, the Jewells have provided the children with a nurturing, loving, and godly home. Formerly timid, crying often, no self confidence, and often hide in the corner, Kenyona now has a quiet confidence about her. She has excellent work habits and always completes her homework and class work on time.

Kenyona has been strengthened by the time that Betty gives her nightly in doing school work. While academics do not come easy to her, she is succeeding through effort and tenacity. She has friends and interests both at school and at church. Kenyona attends church with the family and has been baptized.

Mrs. Schemmel, her current teacher, stated that, "Kenyona is a lovely young lady. She is kind and generous to others. She will befriend students that may not necessarily be the most accepted ones in the classroom. She treats others respectfully and always has a cheerful attitude."

Anthony Osuna

Anthony Osuna, a Mae Hensley Junior High School seventh-grader, continues to be motivated and academically driven even when dealing with severe physical challenges. He was diagnosed with Systemic Sclerosis in 2004 at the age of 6. His ailments include intermittent stomach pain, occasional chest pain and small facial vascular lesions as well as intermittent ulcers on his fingers and tightness of the skin on his shoulders, hands, knees, and hips. Despite his absences - 21 days so far this semester - Anthony works hard to make up his work and has still managed to maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.42.

Anthony loves coming to school every day and excelling in the classroom. He also does well socially, and attracts many friends with his ever-present positive attitude. His is a far cry, say teachers, who recall him being painfully shy last year.

Julie Grijalva

Although she has some health issues that could hinder her, Caswell Elementary second-grader Julie Grijalva has proven to be an amazing young lady who has proven that she will be successful in spite of difficulties thrown her way.

Julie came to Caswell as a kindergartner born with a disability which has made it hard for her to take care of herself in the manner most children her age are able to. She had surgery during the school year, which caused her to miss a significant amount of time. Because of her academic abilities and her strong desire, Julie was able to keep up with the other students' learning.

She had a rough first grade as the family moved and the dynamics of the family changed. Julie did not want to be at school and missed significant time. In spite of this, she was achieving academic success.

Because she was unable to participate in PE class with her classmates, she went to her previous kindergarten class and worked with students. About mid-way through the year, she was placed in an adaptive PE class, where she appeared to gain some confidence.

Julie is currently in 2nd grade, and is thriving. She has regular attendance and is a leader in the class. She continues to flourish academically and has become quite a social butterfly. Other students look up to her and she can be counted on to do the right thing at all times. During her class' regularly scheduled PE time, she continues to go to her kindergarten classroom to work with students. She takes this task quite seriously and the teacher benefits from her efforts. She has regular attendance and has a wonderful attitude about school.

Alex Clarks Jr.

Walter White second-grader Alex Clarks Jr. was once characterized as an angry and frustrated boy and for good reason. Alex was born to a mother who was incarcerated, taken in by an aunt, given back to his mother in an abusive relationship, and given back to the aunt before health issues caused her to turn him over to a group home. He became violent with students and teachers, Alex required one-on-one tutoring.

By the time Alex enrolled in first grade at Walter White Elementary in December of 2009, he had been displaced from his family, moved through two group homes and was now starting a new school. Alex made progress bonding to staff, and began to relax and become a part of the school community.

Today he excells as a student. He was a top student, achieving proficiency and advanced in both English language arts and math grade level assessments. In addition, Alex has many friends and enjoys participating in recess time sports, especially football. He is helpful to others, gets his work done, eager to take on new assignments and loves to read and enjoys being listening to stories.

Angel Parra Gomez

Central Valley High School junior Angel Parra Gomez has overcome a number of hurdles throughout recent years, yet excels in his academics, contributes to his family business at home, and serves as an example to his peers.

Born into a successful San Jose family, the family went under economically when the recession hit and the family became homeless. At the time there were seven people in the family, and finding somewhere to live was challenging. Angel expressed that at the time no one would rent to them because there were so many people in their family and they didn't have the credit they needed. The stress got to Angel and his grade began slipping.

The family moved to a gang-strifed area locally and for a year Angel felt the stress of resisting gang pressures and having to be the man of the house while his father went to Oregon for work. While living in a two-bedroom one-bath house in South Modesto, Alex found a way to invest in party rental items such as a bouncy house and chairs. Angel took on the role of marketing and advertising, as well as setting all the prices and helping with taking orders, delivery, and set up over the weekends.

Angel created a website for the family business at Since then, and in large part due to Angel's help, the business continues to grow, and his father now commutes to the bay area every day for work.

Over the years Angel has found a way to balance helping his family and excelling in his academics. Angel's GPA has jumped from his first semester as a freshman in San Jose being a 2.49, to a consistent 3.5 over the last few semesters. Angel is humble and a down to earth student who gives credit to his parents for showing him what hard work is, and motivating him to not let anything get him down.

His history teacher said of Angel: "He is one of my top students."

Angel is a perfect example of a student who looks in the face of adversity and is better because of it as opposed to letting a bad situation get the best of him.

Jessica Wences

Jessica Wences, now a senior at Ceres High School, was once known by staff members as a smart-mouth, rebellious, out-of-control freshman. But when she became pregnant, Jessica knew she had to change.

"I knew I couldn't be the same person I had been," said Jessica. "I had to change for my daughter."

Over the last three years Jessica has had to learn to manage the demands of motherhood, school, and responsibilities at home; leaving very little time or energy for herself. The day care program at Argus High School has allowed Jessica the freedom to continue attending Ceres High School and the peace of mind knowing her daughter, Jasleen, is in a safe and caring environment.

Jessica said she appreciated the support and encouragement she received from Ms. Swanke, her art teacher at CHS, throughout her pregnancy. Ms. Swanke also helped her research options once the baby was born.

Moral support has also been given by her mother and sisters.

There have been times over the last three years when Jessica has felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities, by a difficult living situation and by the demands of school, but she has persevered.

"My life is not easy, but I would not change anything. Without my daughter, I don't know what I would do. She is my motivation, the reason for me not to give up. She is the reason I smile in the morning. She keeps me grounded - without her I would not be where I am today."

Wences is planning to attend Sacramento State in the fall to major in psychology, with a long term goal of becoming a probation officer.