Health problems. Language barriers. Anger problems. Unstable home environments. Poor choices. Learning handicaps.
Those are just some of the obstacles that have either been overcome or are in the process of being overcome by some Ceres students who were singled out Thursday morning for a special "Every Student Succeeding" event. Over scrambled eggs, fruit and potatoes, the students and their families and teachers were celebrated by the Ceres Unified School District at the Ceres Community Center.
Each of the 21 schools in Ceres picked a student who has continued to make strides despite monumental physical, emotional or mental handicaps. One school, Sam Vaughn Elementary, honored twin brothers for the honor.
Dr. Debi Bukko, Ceres Unified School District's Assistant Superintendent of the Educational Services Division, said the students were nominated by staff members "because they stand out among the crowd and have overcome some adversity and we are here to celebrate them."
The honorees were:
• Chance King, Don Pedro Elementary School;
• Austin Jimenez, Adkison Elementary School;
• Anastasia Atristain, La Rosa Elementary School;
• Azalea Perez, Caswell Elementary School;
• Angel Davidson, Hidahl Elementary School;
• Ellie Hart, Whitmore Charter School of Arts & Technology;
• Tyler Duarte, Walter White Elementary School;
• Brayden Herrema, Westport Elementary School;
• Emely Vazquez, Lucas Elementary School;
• Aisea Jabr, Carroll Fowler Elementary School;
• Isaiah Lipani, Patricia Kay Beaver Elementary School;
• Matthew and Moses Barraza, San Vaughn Elementary School;
• Alexandria Mansilla, Sinclear Elementary School;
• Jaiden Smith, Virginia Parks Elementary School;
• Jossue Portillo, Mae Hensley Junior High School;
• Marcelo Contreras, Blaker-Kinser Junior High School;
• Izriel Ramirez, Cesar Chavez Junior High;
• Harjot Kaur, Central Valley High School;
• Joseph Delasandro IV, Argus High School;
• Anthony Osuna, Ceres High School.
Each student was introduced by a narrated video explaining about their struggles and progress.
At the start of the school year, Don Pedro Elementary sixth-grader Chance King and a few boys were having a difficult time behaving. In the first few weeks, conflicts among Chance and peers arose with the boys choosing sides and riffs forming between friendships. To help Chance and his peers, a boys group was formed under the direction of the site student support specialist. The boys began to meet, build community spirit, and Chance, in particular, began to show himself as a leader. The boys called the group the Don Pedro All Stars, which meets on a weekly basis. His teacher noticed that when others chose to be off task in class, Chance would stay focused. When a conflict arose on the football field during recess, Chance would be the first to remind the group not to engage and allow conflict to erupt, saying things like, "It's not worth it. Come on, let's play." This leadership has helped stop conflicts. When a new student joined the school, Chance invited the student to play during recess and helped make him feel like a part of the group.
School officials say Chance has made a dramatic change in attitude and effort and has become a leader acting with integrity and showing kindness to others.
Fourth-grader has overcome numerous challenges to succeed at Adkison Elementary. Austin has demonstrated tremendous growth socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. He demonstrates patience, awareness of his own and others' emotions, as well as growth in his interpersonal skills. He is able to self-advocate in a manner that shows evidence of maturity as well as growth in his communication skills. Austin consistently exceeds everyone's expectations by achieving and surpassing the goals that have been set for him. He strives to please his teacher and parents, and he sees the importance of hard work, honesty, and having a growth-mindset.
Austin's parents, Robert and Tanisha Jimenez, have consistently advocated for Austin. As a result, Austin has received support services since preschool. With the behavioral, academic, and language support of the Valley Mountain Regional Center and Student Support Servies, Austin has made exceptional growth. It soon became evident that Austin was no longer in need of intensive support.
At the age of two, Anastasia Atristain struggled with social interactions and communication that caused significant challenges. When she enrolled in school, she received intensive support services to help her succeed in the learning and social environment. Through hard work and the unwavering support of her grandmother, Anastasia was placed in less restrictive learning environments. Last year, she came to La Rosa with a need for educational support services.
Now a sixth-grader at La Rosa, a January review of her assessments showed that she no longer needs additional services. She is performing at or above average in all areas.
Teachers and staff note they are impressed by Anastasia's kindness, compassion, and respect.
She loves art and music.
She lives with her grandmother Margaret and her brother Gabriel, who also attends La Rosa.
Matthew & Moses Barraza
Twin brothers Matthew and Moses Barraza arrived at the beginning of their fourth grade year from a more restrictive setting to the student support services class at Sam Vaughn Elementary. They were fearful, anxious children who were dependent on others and unsure of themselves. They were unsure about handling academic and social demands and would often try to deflect by complaining of being tired and afraid, crying, throwing long tantrums or become aggressive. Support staff would help to diffuse the boys' behavior so they could participate in the learning.
Given their history, their mother was concerned with the movement to a less restrictive setting. However, the brothers are flourishing.
In the beginning, the boys were only able to write their names and recognize some numbers. Now, they are able to read short phonetic words, write short accounts after having been read a text, do multi-digit addition with regrouping, and respond to comprehension questions with details.
As their confidence has increased, Matthew and Moses have begun participating in more mainstreaming opportunities. With the support of staff, they have joined other fourth grade classrooms. They participated in the "Walk Through California" activity, memorizing their portions of the presentation. They attend field trips and participate in choir. At recess they play with other students. These young men have become part of the Sam Vaughn school community.
The loss of her mother, separation from her father and placement in a new family caused Angel Davidson to have a difficult time at Joel Hidahl Elementary School. She was easily distracted and off task. In the beginning it was a battle to get Angel on the bus, and attendance was sporadic. She didn't do her homework and work in school. This was a very challenging time for Angel and she was placed in a supportive classroom environment at Hidahl.
With the help of a caring and patient teacher, clinician, staff, and foster parent, the staff has seen some exciting changes in Angel. Even though some days are hard and she may be angry with the world, her attendance and determination have vastly improved. She now attends school each day with a positive attitude, ready to do her best. She follows directions, completes assignments, and brings her folder with homework completed. Angel is now outperforming the rest of the class, loves reading and is testing above her grade level. Angel even earned Honor Roll status during the first trimester.
Life for Ellie Hart changed dramatically in 2015. As a second-grader Ellie, started feeling short of breath, had been emotional often, and had experienced a few days excessive thirst. She skipped dance class after school to see the doctor. She ended up being taken by ambulance to the hospital where she spent five days and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, a life threatening auto immune disease.
Now in the third grade, Ellie has to constantly prick her fingers to draw blood for blood sugar level checks. Some days, her blood sugar will be checked at least 11 times a day because of her active lifestyle and the constant fluctuations in blood sugar. With the help of family, the community, and a service dog, Ellie is overcoming this challenge and becoming an advocate for others.
Ellie's mission is to teach the world about diabetes. November was Diabetes Awareness Month and she wanted to see if her school could have a "Blue Day" for Diabetes Awareness and educate the student body about the disease. On Nov. 20, there was blue all over Whitmore Charter. Ellie has also been asked to speak at another school where a student was recently diagnosed with diabetes and was also asked to educate a fifth grade class about diabetes.
Articles on Ellie's journey have been shared throughout the internet and local media.
Tyler Duarte exemplifies incredible resilience and positivity when faced with obstacles.
When he enrolled at Walter White Elementary, Tyler was challenged with issues of adversity that could have been barriers to success. Faced with an unstable housing and financial situation, transportation deficits, and the frequent hospitalizations of his mother, Tyler still managed to get to school, prepared and ready to learn. Taking Dial-a-Ride with older sister, Tyler attended class, completed required work assignments and maintained a positive attitude toward academic tasks.
Transitioning to the rigor of intermediate grade level expectations can be daunting to children in stable situations. However, as a student faced with challenges, Tyler has blossomed. He makes friends easily ease and became a class leader, volunteering for tasks and responsibilities that others might shrug off. Tyler has proven that effort, determination, and perseverance can permit him to exceed academic expectations. He has now managed to exceed grade level expectations in word recognition, comprehension, and fluency. Tyler is working hard to master math facts, and his writing has gone up a level on the School District Rubric. He approaches his work in a professional manner, and is never afraid to ask for clarification.
The entire Walter White school team has worked together to support Tyler emotionally and physically by ensuring that he has essential resources and words of encouragement daily to keep his spirits high and love for school raised. Tyler has been identified by his peers as, "a gentleman," "peace builder," "always willing to help a classmate," and "a great friend."
A young man who has overcome significant health challenges, Brayden Herrema is thriving at Westport Elementary.
Brayden has Vacterl Association (Vader Syndrome) which is a series of health issues involving multiple body parts. At his previous school, Brayden struggled academically and was retained in first grade due to poor attendance. He was constantly sent home from school due to his medical issues and did not have the support he needed to fully participate in the school environment.
Now Brayden has a full-time nurse who cares for him at school which allows him to stay at school and not miss out on learning and time with his peers. As a result Brayden is making great growth academically. He excels in math and has made growth in his reading and writing.
At Westport, Brayden is able to participate in recess, physical education, and also eats lunch with his peers. These are all activities he was not able to do at his previous school where he used a wheelchair, which caused him to lose muscle tone. Now Brayden walks independently and participates in all parts of the school day. His attendance has improved greatly, and he is the healthiest he was been and he has made great academic growth.
A fourth-grader at Lucas Elementary, a dual language school, Emely Vazquez comes from a very nourishing home where she is the only girl child. She has enjoyed the support of her parents and three brothers. However, in the beginning, teachers and her parents noticed her academics were not up to par. By the end of her first grade year, doctors discovered that she could not hear in one ear and needed surgery. Over the summer, Emely went through another surgery to repair her hearing. This major surgery has helped Emely hear better and sleep better. She started this school year, ready to work hard and succeed.
Emely's teachers set strategic academic interventions in motion to support her learning, and Emely has benefited from being a part of a dual language school where the Ceres instructional norms are directly delivered in daily lessons. Collaboration between teachers Antonio Garcia and Mirna Ramos has also made an impact in her bilingual education.
Her parents have been strong supporters of Emely's academic success, ensuring that Emely has a loving home, comfort and other necessities to meet her emotional and physical needs.
Now in the third grade, Emely continues to succeed in both languages. In spite of her struggles, she has made extensive leaps in her academics and with her peers. She enjoys many friendships at school and displays a positive attitude and wonderful social skills with peers.
Alexandria Mansilla has overcome vast and immeasurable personal trauma in her life. Faced with challenges that would devastate others, Alex truly embodies the power that can be attained when one never gives up.
Alex demonstrates excellence through exceptional attendance, and she gives her full effort in class. She attends the after school program daily, is eager to help, and has a remarkable attitude toward school. She has formed a strong bond with a group of girls this year and has had no behavioral problems.
Alex has exceeded expectations by continually coming to school with a positive and mature outlook on life, even given very unstable circumstances. Alex has worked with multiple people in the Ceres Unified support services team who have worked as support pillars as she has navigated through personal adversity. She has made admirable progress in the last year in areas of peer relationships, adult respect, and behavior. Alex has been dealt a tough hand but has continued to persevere to be a well-rounded and productive student at Sinclear Elementary.
When Isaiah Lipani first started kindergarten at Patricia "Kay" Beaver Elementary, he displayed extreme behaviors and often had difficulty remaining in the classroom for more than a couple of minutes at a time. Isaiah did not like coming to school and often demonstrated aggression. He craved negative attention and was unable and unwilling to use his words to communicate with others.
He has since made great progress.
Shortly after the start of the school year, Isaiah started coming to school for only half a day. In October, a classroom management plan was put in place and the staff began to see a change in his behavior. Isaiah started to enjoy attending school and was no longer trying to escape the classroom. He began sitting at the carpet and at the table for direct instruction lessons and participating in small groups with his peers. Isaiah began to use appropriate communication to express his needs. He is now being successful behaviorally in the classroom and on the playground. He receives positive reinforcement from adults, and his peers also help and encourage his appropriate behavior.
Isaiah comes to school every day with a smile on his face and is excited to see his teacher and friends. He is friendly to all staff and tries his best to follow rules and procedures.
Aisea Jabr is an extremely talented, respectful, and humble sixth grade student at Carroll Fowler Elementary.
When he came to Carroll Fowler in second grade, he was experiencing significant difficulties in the areas of learning and behavior. Aisea was unhappy, anxious, and impulsive. As the years progressed at Carroll Fowler, he received substantial support by a team of caring teachers and support staff.
As a result of his hard work, interventions from staff, and a supportive home environment, Aisea started making enormous growth in the fifth grade. Specifically, he has persevered to learn and practice self-monitoring skills. Aisea now exhibits a happy attitude, maintains positive relationships, and has improved his academic achievement. In addition, Aisea is a model citizen who follows sports and general rules on the yard. His life goal is to be a "smart athlete," and he specifically desires to be an NBA player.
Jaiden Smith, a third-grader at Virginia Parks - he's attended there since kindergarten - has overcome struggles with interpersonal communication skills, language deficits, understanding emotions, and social relationships. Jaiden has made great progress and is able to communicate his wants and needs while at school where he is an active participant in all he does.
Jaiden has great enthusiasm for learning and is looking for ways to share his experiences with others. Socially, Jaiden is now able to maintain positive peer relationships. He is a caring friend and proposed the idea of a "buddy bench" designed for students to have a place to go if they need a peer to play with or they can look to the bench to find a peer. The bench has been put into place and is utilized daily.
Jaiden's confidence has grown tremendously as he has learned to speak to large audiences. Public speaking is challenging for most people, but with much practice and hard work, Jaiden looks forward to doing this with ease and success. For the past two years, Jaiden has participated in the school talent show by performing a magic/science show. He also overcame his fear and rode Medusa, a giant upside down rollercoaster.
Jaiden exceeds teacher and staff expectations by constantly meeting and surpassing goals set for him. He is always eager to learn and to share his own experiences with peers. In addition to his focus on academics, Jaiden is also active in his community, teaching vacation Bible school and helping to raise funds to deliver 300 gifts to elderly adults in a convalescent hospital. Jaiden also studies karate and has advanced in karate from white belt to yellow and then to orange. His next goal is to earn his blue belt.
Challenged with unstable living situations, sometimes living with friends and advocates while his parents were between homes, Izriel Ramirez has overcome many obstacles in his life. Rather than giving up, Izriel has worked hard and demonstrated responsibility and maturity beyond his years. One example of this is helping to take care of his younger brother by picking him up at school and making sure he is safe. Despite his hardships, Izriel has been able to earn and maintain a 3.9 grade point average while participating in many outside programs such as Ceres Youth Football and the school club PHAST JV. Izriel is a model student showing good character and excellence both on and off campus. He is an excellent student who adds much to Cesar Chavez Junior High School and the community.
"Tenacious" is a word that comes to mind when staff members of Mae Hensley Junior High think of Jossue Portillo. He simply refuses to allow anything to get in his way when it comes to achieving success at school.
Jossue quickly demonstrated to teachers that he is a bright young man who had the knowledge he needed to be successful; however, he lacked the ability to speak English. Teachers noticed that although he didn't speak English, he was attentive to everything going on around him and utilized whatever resources he could to be successful in his classes.
In less than two years, Jossue has learned English and is able to articulate what he knows in both English and Spanish.
He refused to let health issues derail him on his quest to be the best student he could. If he had to miss school to attend a doctor's appointment, he missed the minimum about time possible, returning to school the same day as his appointment in order to get back to learning.
Jossue Portillo Lopez is the epitome of a student who truly exemplifies the school mission to "Focus On Learning Every Day." Through his own tenacity and perseverance, Jossue has motivated not only himself but other students and his teachers to continually strive for excellence, regardless of any hurdles.
Even though he was diagnosed with the blood disorder Beta Thalassemia, and was placed on the Home and Hospital program for his entire seventh grade year as he received a bone marrow transplant, Marcelo Contreras stayed focused on learning and maintained above a 3.5 grade point average.
Marcelo started off his eighth grade year with a 4.0 GPA. He has been able to attend school this year and although he misses school to attend frequent doctor appointments, Marcelo has been able to maintain above a 3.5 GPA for his eighth grade year as well.
His teacher, Mrs. Johnson, said that, "despite Marcelo's challenges, he has never used them as an excuse to fail. While some people would see themselves as a victim, he navigates through life as a champion. Last quarter he earned a 101 percent in my class. He gives his very best at all that he does and his positive attitude never fails."
Harjot Kaur, a senior at Central Valley High School, moved to Ceres from Punjab, India in the sixth grade and attended Don Pedro Elementary for one year before moving back to India. She returned to CVHS during her sophomore year.
Upon returning to the United States, Harjot was enrolled in the English Language Development classes, learning English while also taking other required academic classes. In a short period of time, Harjot has progressed into college prep English and earned straight A's on her report cards.
Knowing she wants to attend college, Harjot started taking night school, summer school and college preparation online classes to make up all the college entrance course requirements she missed her freshman and sophomore years. She was reclassified as English proficient in February of last year and is currently going to night school four nights a week to meet college requirements. She has a 4.0 grade point average and plans to apply to U.C. Berkley or anywhere that offers music because she wants to be a music producer. Harjot has worked very hard to attain her goal of going to a University.
The phrase, "Always willing to go the extra mile" is one that describes Ceres High School senior Anthony Osuna. Despite medical challenges, Anthony strives to perform and to be treated just like every other student on campus. He doesn't let physical challenges prevent him from competing in the same competitions as others, and excels in class activities while maintaining a high grade point average and positive attitude.
Not one to complain or make excuses, one of Anthony's most admirable qualities is that he strives for excellence. In addition, Anthony's actions are those that portray leadership skills and the desire to help others experience success. He puts others first and is willing to help those around him whenever needed, spending countless hours with his church, organizing food donations and other charitable events for those in need.
Anthony is a leader at Ceres High School where he always has a positive attitude and brightens the day for anyone fortunate enough to encounter him.
Joseph Delasandro IV
Joseph has overcome a history of academic struggles since elementary school and was severely credit deficient when he enrolled at Argus High School at the beginning of his junior grade year. He has struggled in the past, but he has demonstrated perseverance, determination and excellence at Argus High School.
Joseph has demonstrated remarkable academic success during the past year and a half. He has become a productive and positive addition to his classes and the campus. He is eager to share responses and contribute to class discussions, and he has been on the Honor Roll each term, with a 4.0 GPA four of the six terms. He has not missed a day of school this year.
In addition, Joseph was selected by the staff as "Student of the Quarter" for his outstanding academic achievement. Now an exemplary student, Joseph is now on track for graduation in June.