School can be a struggle for many students but life can deliver adverse conditions that place significantly greater obstacles in a child's path toward a good education. When they overcome, educators take notice.
On the morning of March 28, 20 Ceres students who continue making progress despite adversities like illnesses, economic conditions, learning disabilities or the death of a parent were honored at the "Every Student Succeeding" breakfast program.
Students and their families, along with their teachers and support staff, were treated to breakfast at the Ceres Community Center which was decorated with balloons and large photos of all honorees set up on easels around the room. Each students' life story was told in an audio-visual presentation as each honoree came forward to be greeted by Ceres Unified School District officials and representatives of elected officials.
The students honored were:
• Manuela Gomez Castillo of Don Pedro Elementary;
• Addisyn O'Hare of M. Robert Adkison Elementary;
• Kaydence Fleeman of Patricia Kay Beaver Elementary;
• Raihanna Robinson of Carroll Fowler Elementary;
• Ricardo Madrigal of Caswell Elementary;
• Wendy Elizarraras Orantes of Joel J. Hidahl Elementary;
• John Walker of La Rosa Elementary;
• Mariana Campos of the Lucas Dual Language Academy;
• Toriano Adger of Samuel Vaughn Elementary;
• Hunter Coffer of Sinclear Elementary;
• Dylan Messinger of Virginia Parks Elementary;
• Ricardo Penaloza of Westport Elementary;
• Daniel Soares of Blaker-Kinser Junior High;
• Angela Mendoza of Mae Hensley Junior High;
• Yerexia Ochoa of Argus High School;
• Javey Gomez of Ceres High School;
• Naaym Saad of Whitmore Charter High School;
• Nour Mardash of Walter White Elementary;
• Verlis Smith of Cesar Chavez Junior High;
• Cristobal Barajas of Central Valley High;
Manuela Gomez Castillo
Don Pedro Elementary sixth-grader Manuela Gomez Castillo was honored for her positive attitude toward learning and having learned to persevere regardless of her mobility issues. Since her first days at Don Pedro, her family and school staff have watched her become an outspoken and brave advocate for herself.
Earlier this year, Manuela called her own meeting to discuss attending Outdoor Education camp above Sonora. She wanted a better idea of what the weeklong experience would entail before committing to attending. Although she was nervous about the weeklong trip away from family, Manuela embraced the opportunity. During the experience she fully participated in activities, even getting down on her knees to help make fire with her group. Her mother said that since she has been back, she has watched a strong and independent Manuela develop. Manuela has not only pushed through the physical obstacles at camp, she has persevered through internal ones. She has come through with a new outlook about the opportunities that await her with confidence.
Adkison Elementary second-grader Addisyn O'Hare exhibits upbeat and positive attitude in the classroom despite suffering the death of her mother last February. School staffers say Addisyn displays a continual eagerness to learn and noted that they have rallied around her to support her in many ways. She always demonstrates appreciation for everything in spite of her circumstances.
Throughout her first grade year, Addisyn almost never returned homework and her family was often unable to attend her conferences. Yet, Addisyn read above grade level, worked hard and demonstrated a grateful attitude each day at school. One day her teacher added glittery crayons to her literacy group station and she exclaimed, "This is the best day ever!" - a common sentiment from her mouth.
Patricia K. Beaver Elementary sixth-grader Kaydie Fleeman has rallied from a critical health emergency that affected her life in the fourth grade. Her family rushed her to the hospital believing she had a severe case of the flu only to learn that she was battling for her life with Type 1 diabetes. The disease rocked not only Kaydie but the entire family. Kaydie has shown determination, however, to give the best effort possible in all she does.
Kaydie continues to exceed expectations by keeping her honor roll status each semester. She has been a peer tutor and frequently asks to provide support for those who have fallen behind.
She has been an officer in Student Council since third grade and is a current member of the Leadership Crew. She was recently the inspiration of the school's community service project in which the student body raised over $3,900 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Kaydie has given numerous speeches to small and large crowds, with the goal of educating others about Type 1 Diabetes.
Carroll Fowler Elementary fourth-grader Raihanna Robinson was diagnosed with chronic lung disease and pulmonary hypertension at birth and today requires continuous oxygen. When she was just one year old, doctors noted her mild hearing loss which she copes with through hearing aids. School staffers say she never lets her disabilities define her. In fact, Raihanna has overcome much of her shyness and has gained confidence to engage in conversations with her classmates, offering opinions and learning from others. She is excelling in PE, can run farther than before and is able to swing on the monkey bars with greater coordination. The adults who work with Raihanna are so impressed with her sense of responsibility and independence and how she was elected second historian on Carrol Fowler's Student Council this year.
In addition to full-time assistance from the nurse, Raihanna receives regular support from the Resource Specialist and adaptive PE teachers. Raihanna has a supportive family who works closely with the school team on her behalf. Recently she was able to stop her occupational and speech therapy as she no longer requires this additional help.
Caswell Elementary sixth-grader Ricardo Madrigal was honored for being a model and diligent student with excellent attendance. He stays on top of assignments, turns everything in on time, and asks for help when needed. He is a kind, respectful, helpful, and considerate young man who is always the first to volunteer to help others.
In addition to being a stellar student, Ricardo is active in a competitive, traveling soccer team. He spends a great deal of time after school and on weekends pursuing his love for soccer.
Ricardo never has to be reminded about assignments, expectations, or schedules and changes. He receives support from his resource teacher, Mrs. Santos, and his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Brister, when needed. His dedicated parents and family are always there for him as well.
Wendy Elizarraras Orantes
Hidahl Elementary recognized sixth-grader Wendy Elizarraras Orantes for overcoming life's challenges with grace and good humor.
Wendy has faced many personal obstacles during her time as a student. Financial and relationship troubles abound, but through these, Wendy has learned to serve as a good support for her mother.
As a third-grader, Wendy was apathetic and seemed to lose hope as her grades slipped. She continued earning low grades until the summer after fifth grade, when her creativity blossomed during summer school. Wendy's talent as an artist came through, and she began reaching out to adults around her to engage in friendly conversation about art.
She has put forth incredible effort this year. Not only is she learning sixth grade curriculum, but she is filling in the gaps from previous years' inattention. Wendy is tireless in her pursuit of learning.
La Rosa Elementary sixth-grader John Walker was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in September 2015 and has since placed him on Home and Hospital study as a result of his health problem, but he enjoys coming to school when he can. This year, John received two devices to monitor his insulin; one being a device called Dexcom and the other an insulin pump. John did not bat an eyelash at the thought of having a device strapped to his body; instead, he came to school explaining to everyone how they worked. He even gave his Dexcom the name "Dex."
Although John suffers many acute health problems and his body has endured many difficulties, John wears a perpetual smile. His teacher, Mr. Sundy remarked that John is "truly a one of a kind young man. No matter what obstacles are thrown at him, John will stand tall, put a smile on his face and charge."
As a young child, Lucas Elementary fifth-grader Mariana Campos was brought to the United States from Mexico by her father. Tragedy struck the family when dad died and forced her mother to struggle as a single parent and forced to be strong for her daughters. Watching her mother overcome has made Marianna strong and an overcomer too.
Mariana enrolled at Lucas Elementary Dual Language Academy when she was in first grade as part of the first cohort of the school. Because she spoke Spanish, English did not come easily to Mariana, but her focus on her academics and her mom's emphasis on maintaining a good education have propelled Mariana into her studies.
Mariana has become a star amongst her peers. She has only missed one day of school in the last three years. She has been a member of Student Council, was the only student to qualify for the dual language Spelling Bee last year, and continues to be one of the top students in class.
Sam Vaughn Elementary third-grader Toriano Adger is an amazing young man who has worked hard to overcome many obstacles, including being separated from his family, losing a brother to gang violence and attending four schools by second grade. When Toriano arrived at Sam Vaughn in 2016, he showed high levels of anger and aggression, distrusted other students and staff, and he struggled socially, emotionally, and academically in school.
However, over the last 18 months, Toriano has come alive in the classroom. He has worked with the student support services team to acquire coping strategies to regulate his feelings and actions. Toriano has established healthy relationships with peers and teachers, which can be seen in his daily positive attitude. He can often be seen shooting hoops and doing his best Kyrie Irving impression on the court. His current and former teachers have built trust with Toriano, and consequently he is approaching grade level standards. Through the hard work of Toriano, his family, and Sam Vaughn staff, he is back on track.
His foster mother made a crucial impact on Toriano by emphasizing the importance of education.
Sinclear Elementary fourth-grader Hunter Coffer transferred to Sinclear Elementary in the third grade after spending the previous grades at different schools in Ceres and Turlock. The transition to life at Sinclear was a difficult one for Hunter and he struggled with following directions, doing class work, and finding appropriate ways to cope when frustrated. Hunter's consistent and severe behavior problems during third grade led to him being placed on a half-day schedule and eventually to full-time independent study with a weekly check-in with Sinclear's student support specialist.
Hunter returned to Sinclear in August as a fourth-grader who had matured and taken a 180-degree approach to school. Hunter has spent many hours being counseled by Sinclear's administration, Student Support Specialist as well as an outside counselor. All of the time invested paid huge dividends in Hunter's behavior on campus and academic growth inside the classroom. School staffers have on several occasions witnessed Hunter counseling his peers, and giving them advice on how to handle themselves when in trouble. Hunter now enjoys school and is excelling in the fourth grade.
Virginia Parks Elementary second-grader Dylan Messinger began at Virginia Parks as a kindergartner who had difficulty with self-control, struggled with identifying and expressing emotions, and regularly displayed impulsive behavior. School officials quickly put services into place for him; he received social skills and school-based counseling, and multiple student success team meetings were scheduled to monitor his behavior and progress. His mother worked closely with the medical and school-based teams to put accommodations in place to support Dylan. The beginning of each year can be challenging; however, with structure and behavioral management, Dylan's progress is evident.
Over the past two years, Dylan's on-task behavior has increased, and his social interaction has improved. He is able to articulate his needs, his confidence has grown, and he has a strong desire to please.
Dylan continues to overcome obstacles and make steps toward improving his behavior and academics.
Westport Elementary sixth-grader Ricardo Penaloza is an exceptional student who does not let a disability define him. He has almost no hearing in both of his ears, and there has been an ongoing battle for the family to access timely medical care needed for Ricardo to have access to working hearing aids. Although he struggled to hear nearly all instruction for the majority of his fifth grade school year, he never once complained and always gave 110 percent. Ricardo always maintained a positive attitude and determination to learn during this time. He always did his best to pick up on social cues from his friends and peers in order to keep up with the learning.
Several staff members worked with Ricardo and his mother to navigate the community agencies in an effort to repair the broken hearing aids that he had worn for quite some time. It was through these tireless efforts and Ricardo's determined spirit that he was given a state of the art, brand new hearing aid set. He is a student others look to for encouragement and friendship.
Blaker Kinser Junior High eighth-grader Daniel Soares was selected for his award due to his ability to overcome challenges he faces on a daily basis. When he first came to Blaker as a seventh-grader, Daniel rarely spoke to adults but over the past year has become quite vocal and even advocates for his self in stressful situations. Daniel receives specialized academic instruction and has made tremendous progress while mainstreaming in general education classes for both elective and core instruction. Staff members see Daniel giving his best each day. It is impossible to walk onto the Blaker campus and not notice his infectious smile and positive "can do" attitude. Daniel is a student who will not let the boundaries autism can create get in the way of his success and goals. His parents and support staff at school have worked hard to ensure he is finding both academic and social success.
Daniel was recently selected as the "Rotary Student of the Month." He also enjoys track.
Mae Hensley Junior High eighth-grader Angela Mendoza has unique health needs which require special diets and trips to Stanford and Lucille Packard Hospital to spend what she jokingly calls "Extended Time at my Vacation Home." When Angela came to Mae Hensley in 2017, she and her parents were very concerned about her education and her abilities. She worried that she would fall behind in her school work as a result of missing class but she has worked diligently to make sure this does not happen. She has been described as a ferocious learner, a virtual sponge who has amazed her peers and teachers.
Angela has improved by three grade levels in the past year and a half in reading, comprehension, spelling, and writing. Her math is progressing closely behind. The effort that she puts forth and applies to all academic areas is outstanding. Angela is to be commended and admired for her courage, bravery, and positive outlook on life.
Argus High School senior Yerexia Ochoa enrolled at Endeavor independent study during her 10th grade year. She was severely credit deficient, coming in with 35 of 90 possible credits, and she struggled to get to school daily. As the oldest child in the home, Yerexia was often responsible for her younger siblings. School was not a priority at that time.
As an 11th grader, Yerexia began to turn things around. She has overcome a history of attendance, academic and emotional issues during her time at Argus. She suffered through unstable living conditions, intense family issues, and economic disadvantages throughout the past few years. However, she has demonstrated strong academic gains this year. She passed all of her classes and earned Honor Roll status several terms. She has only missed one day of school this year and has been nominated by staff as Student of the Quarter. Her perseverance and dedication to achieving success make Yerexia a positive role model for all students at Argus/Endeavor.
If you would have asked Ceres High School senior Javey Gomez last year if he was even going to finish his junior year, he might have wondered that himself. After a personal family crisis, Javey and his family lost their home. While living in a small travel trailer, Javey was unable to attend school. He tried his best to complete his schoolwork, but struggled academically. In the end, Javey made up a lot of his work, took his finals and passed most of his classes at the end of junior year. He even went one step further and enrolled in summer school to make up his English credits and start his senior year on track to graduate.
Although Javey continues to overcome daily hardships, he is doing well in his senior year. He finished the first semester with a 3.0 grade point average and is on track to graduate in May. When asked what he has learned through his experiences last year and now as an "unaccompanied youth," Javey says that he knows the importance of asking for help and advocating for himself.
Javey would like to play football in college and will attend either Fresno City College or Modesto Junior College next fall and then transfer to Fresno State. Although he is unsure on a major or a career path he would like to pursue, he knows he wants to graduate from college with a degree. His positive attitude and desire to persevere daily make him a success.
Whitmore Charter High freshman Naaym Saad. Naaym, who was born in Yemen and moved to the United States less than two years ago, was unable to read, write, or even speak English. Naaym's parents immigrated from Yemen several years before her, and she stayed behind to attend school and help her aunt with daily household duties. During this time she was separated from her parents, and four of her five younger siblings were born in the United States.
When she first arrived at Whitmore, Naaym was painfully shy and didn't speak to many because of the language barrier. She was soon placed in the American Sign Language class where she has excelled. This class not only helped her learn to sign, it has helped her develop the English language. Naaym currently has a GPA of 3.2.
Naaym is sincere, always has a smile on her face, has a friendly disposition, and takes everything in stride. Although every day can still be a social and emotional struggle- Naaym faces it head on and continues to put her best foot forward.
Nour Mardash is a student who exhibits incredible dedication, resilience and a positive attitude. Fleeing the daily struggle of living in a country plagued of war, Nour came to this country, two years ago, as a refugee. Despite her challenges, Nour was determined to persevere in school and overcome the difficulties she faced from her past and the challenges brought upon learning a new language and transitioning to a new country and new life. Nour has surpassed all expectations. She is described as a student that is brave, courageous, hardworking, and continues to persevere through a major language barrier.
Nour went above and beyond at home to study and meet her goals. As an English learner she struggles with reading and writing, but her educators say she possesses the passion for learning and has surpassed all expectations. In the past two years, Nour's language acquisition has increased dramatically. She is able to communicate with her teachers and peers and has created close friendships. Her third grade teacher said Nour is "a joy to work with and at times would bring me to tears with her positive and loving spirit. I enjoy seeing her continue to thrive on campus here as a fourth grade student."
Nour's caring attitude and concern for others is evident in her willingness to support her younger brother through his difficulties with his transition in school. The school team worked together to support Nour emotionally and academically by ensuring that she had the daily essential academic resources and words of encouragement to keep her spirits high and love for school raised.
Cesar Chavez Jr. High eighth-grader Verlis Smith has overcome much more than the average student at age 14. Because his parents were substance abusers, Verlis spent time living in a group home, and foster care and with relatives. His elementary school experience was extremely chaotic and unstable because his mother continued to abuse drugs and alcohol and CPS and the police were often called to the home. At school he appeared emotional and sad much of the time and he didn't care about school or his grades. Even though he was just a child, he felt a sense of responsibility for taking care of his younger sister. He can vividly remember the day the police and CPS showed up early one morning to arrest his mom and take him and his siblings away.
This last summer, Verlis and his siblings came to live with their aunt and he was enrolled at Cesar Chavez. A short while later his dad passed away due to illness. In spite of the challenges Verlis has faced, he strives to make the best out of every situation. He is maintaining a 4.0 GPA and was recommended to be placed into an Advanced Math course after the first quarter. He is currently on the boys' basketball team and is looking forward to trying out for track and volleyball. He also volunteers at a local shelter to feed and clothe the homeless.
When asked about who contributes to his success, Verlis said his family encourages him to do his best and tries to impress upon him that a solid education is the key to life. He also credits his basketball coach, Nick, because he pushes the boys to put academics first. He also connects weekly with a Student Support Specialist, Ms. Chavez, for counseling services. Verlis also attributes his success to his Learning Director, Mrs. Overman who checks in on him to make sure he's doing well academically, socially, and emotionally.
Cristobal Barajas is an autistic senior at Central Valley High School who has had to learn to navigate his social environment - something that does not come natural for a person with his disability. With support from his family, teachers, learning director and autism inclusion specialist, Cristobal has worked to overcome social challenges and stay focused on academics. Throughout his academic career, Cristobal has learned to receive feedback, apply it and use it to organize studies. There were many times when Cristobal struggled in social interactions with peers and staff members. With support and social skills instruction from his inclusion specialist he has become more social and has become involved with campus activities. Cristobal is involved in the Future Farmers of America and the Robotics Team on campus. During lunchtime activities, one can find Cristobal participating with his peers. Outside of school, Cristobal participates in the Special Olympics in track and basketball.
Academically, Cristobal is an exceptional student and is maintaining a 3.29 grade point average (GPA). Cristobal is currently meeting the requirements to attend a four-year university after high school and has applied to several California state universities. Cristobal aspires to pursue a career in graphic arts.