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Overcoming students honored
20 students feted by CUSD at Every Student Succeeding event
Cesar Chavez seventh-grader Aiden De Los Santos shakes the hand of Helen Condit, a representative of state Senator Anthony Cannella, during Wednesdays Every Student Succeeding program. Vice Mayor Mike Kline, CUSD Supt. Scott Siegel and teacher Elizabeth Capdevielle are also pictured. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

School can be a struggle for many children. Life can deal adverse conditions that place significant obstacles in a child's path to getting a good education. When they overcome, educators take notice.

On Wednesday morning, 20 Ceres students who continue making progress despite adversities like illnesses, economic conditions, the death of a parent or learning disabilities, were honored at an "Every Student Succeeding" breakfast program.

Students and their families - as well as teachers and team supporters - 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 Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegel and representatives of elected officials.
The students honored were:

• Imajinn Gastelo, a Don Pedro Elementary School sixth-grader;
• Maribel Chavarria, an Adkison fourth-grader;
• Anthony Gutierrez, Caswell fifth-grader;
• Audrey Davis, a Sam Vaughn kindergartner;
• Ivan Ugarte, a Joel Hidahl sixth-grader;
• Jonathan Vasquez, a Whitmore Charter School sixth grader;
• Royal Rodriguez, a Walter White Elementary third-grader;
• Sondra Morales, a Westport Elementary sixth-grader;
• Emiliano Jimenez, a Lucas Dual Langage Academy first-grader;
• Stephany Michener, a Carroll Fowler third-grader;
• Liyah Carrillo, a Beaver Elementary fifth-grader;
• Deja Windham, a Virginia Parks second-grader;
• Emma O'Hanlon, a Sinclear Elementary sixth-grader;
• Julie Grijalva, a Mae Hensley Junior High eighth-grader;
• Aiden De Los Santos, a Cesar Chavez Junior High seventh-grader;
• Samantha Hendrix, an Argus High junior;
• Karla Chagoya, a Ceres High School senior;
• Antonio Palacio, a La Rosa Elementary fourth grader;
• Jesse Vazquez, a Blaker-Kinser Junior High eighth-grader, and
• Cherith Franklin, a Central Valley High School senior.

The following is a narrative of each child's educational obstacle.

Imajinn Gastelo
Moving between six schools, helping her mother care for her two young brothers and sister, and grieving the recent loss of her father have been among the setbacks faced by Don Pedro Elementary sixth-grader Imajinn Gastelo. Despite a series of unexpected situations, Imajinn has resolutely smiled and pushrf through with a positive attitude.

The young lady has maintained a strong GPA and is working toward making Honor Roll. She participates in the Don Pedro Enrichment Choir and Dance class as well as a Don Pedro crossing guard. These programs have allowed her to share her gifts with her classmates, parents and the community. A natural leader to her peers, Imajinn is usually the first to reach out to new students in class and the first to include others on the playground. Because she said that she has experienced being a "new kid" and knows that it isn't always fun, Imajinn wants everyone to feel like they belong. Her mature reflection and outlook on life sets her apart from her peers.

Maribel Chavarria
Despite experiencing a personal family tragedy last school year, Adkison Elementary fourth-grader Maribel Chavarria has proven so resilient that she has been able to work through the difficulties. She was described as having a very cheerful disposition and a very unique sense of humor that have been a saving grace. She attempts to please others and is sympathetic and understanding of others. Maribel is full of energy when well rested and is very positive when guided in the right direction. Her teacher, Claudio Cabero, shared that Maribel is "working on being organized and finding better eating habits. She is still trying to convince me that War Heads and Funyons are great for breakfast."

With her infectious smile and energy, Maribel always takes the time to say hello and have a welcoming conversation, especially to those who are new to the Adkison campus. In fact, she was one of the first students to introduce herself to new Principal Anthony Little.

Anthony Gutierrez
For a while, Caswell fifth-grader Anthony Gutierrez was unable to concentrate, think deeply, or attend to tasks for prolonged periods of time. As a second language learner who had difficulty with language in general, Anthony rarely understood a direction the first time he was told and used to require many prompts as well as visual demonstrations as to how to complete any task. After having receiving specialized educational services for three years, hard work and support in school and at home, Anthony has blossomed into a dedicated, highly motivated learner. He now consistently puts forth excellent effort in class and has learned how to focus on lessons. Caswell staff notes how his reading has improved dramatically, as well as many of his other academic skills.

Anthony benefits from a wonderfully supportive family that helps him learn by providing a quiet, stable, regular routine for studying at home. His character traits include being very respectful and kind.

Audrey Davis
At three feet tall, Sam Vaughn Elementary School kindergartener Audrey Davis is described as an incredibly positive student who approaches each day with vigorous enthusiasm and desire to do her best. Nothing seems to hold her back from participating in school - not even being diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of one. She has endured multiple surgeries, undergone chemotherapy and radiation and is assessed every three months to monitor the remaining tumor. Her condition requires frequent visits to the nurse, but Audrey can often be viewed skipping and singing as she makes her way to each nurse check-in.

Ivan Ugarte
Joel Hidahl Elementary sixth-grader Ivan Ugarte is described as an exceptionally hard working student who overcame a difficult language barrier while dealing with the emotional problems of adjusting to a new school and culture. Born in Mexico, Ivan came to the United States and to Ceres in 2013. He was frustrated by being unable to speak any English and was easily intimidated by his classmates. Through time and hard work, Ivan's confidence grew as he became more fluent in English. He received services from the migrant home program and was a constant visitor to the school library. The Library Media Clerk enjoyed Ivan coming into the library to read and to check out books multiple times a day, saying he is the most self-motivated student she has met. By the end of the fifth grade Ivan made Honor Roll and is now working at the highest levels of math and language arts groups in sixth grade.

He now fits in socially on campus and is happy at school.

Jonathan Vasquez
While attending fifth grade, Jonathan Vasquez (now a Whitmore Charter School sixth grader), lost his father after a difficult and prolonged illness. After the death, Jonathan was nervous about returning to school. He found that classmate happily welcomed him back with open arms and gave him time to openly grieve, and was encouraged by a stack of letters and pictures showing him how much they had been thinking about him.

In spite of the challenges Jonathan faced, he persevered and reached goals that he had set for himself - he even made the Honor Roll for the first time.

Jonathan continues to exceed expectations and was elected by his peers as one of Whitmore's sixth grade Student Council representatives. He is extremely involved in the Interact Club on the Whitmore Charter School campus as well as helping at school events.

Jonathan has a kind and considerate personality and is incredibly respectful and welcoming. The school considers him a precious gift to all those who know him, and his father would be proud to know that his "little man of the house" is going above and beyond to do good for others.

Royal Rodriguez
Things did not go well for Royal Rodriguez after separating from his family, moving to a new town and entering Walter White Elementary School for the first time. He showed signs of anger and resentment and had trouble adapting to his new home and school. Royal withdrew from his classmates and refused to communicate or participate in class activities.

Today, however, as a third-grader, Royal is flourishing at Walter White Elementary. He works diligently and has improved significantly in all subject areas. In just one year, Royal has transformed into a school leader who enjoys helping others and his teacher. With the support of his father and the Walter White team, Royal is reaching his full academic potential through a renewed confidence.

Sondra Morales
Sixth-grader Sondra Morales is described by Westport Elementary School staffers as an exceptional young lady who exemplifies perseverance in the face of adversity. Sondra has overcome both academic and home challenges, all while maintaining a positive attitude, good grades, and growing exponentially academically.

When she and her sisters had their lives turned upside down last year and were put in alternate housing, she was the glue that held her sisters together. The staff at Westport rallied beside Sondra and her sisters to ensure that their needs were being met; they continued to succeed, despite their challenges.

Sondra has a sunny outlook, willingness to learn, commitment to hard work and determination have not only encouraged her peers but have captivated the hearts of Westport's staff.

Emiliano Jimenez
Only a first-grader, Emiliano has already experienced obstacles heavier than most adults encounter. He lost his father to an illness and then, just a few years later, lost his mother while giving birth to his younger brother.

His grandparents made every effort to keep Emiliano interested in school during this difficult time, and Emiliano has done just that at Lucas Dual Language Academy.

Emiliano continues enjoys coming to school, has excellent attendance, and has fun with his friends. He has taken full advantage of being a part of a dual language school where the rigor is high and the instructional norms are instilled in both languages. Emiliano actively participates in lessons, utilizes visuals and scaffolds to minimize learning gaps. He has also utilized social and emotional support services to help him adjust to the challenges life has provided.

At home, his younger brother is healthy and his grandparents have ensured that Emiliano has a loving family, comfort and other necessities to meet all his emotional and physical needs.

Stephany Michener
Third-grader Stephany Michener is described by Carroll Fowler Elementary School staff members as a sweet girl full of perseverance and strength in the face of educational and physical challenges. In spite of her adversity, Stephany works hard, persists toward her goals, maintains a solid attendance record, and is willing to work on new concepts without complaints.

Her kindness, politeness, respectfulness, helpfulness and friendliness to other students and adults make Stephany a positive influence to everyone.

She has been characterized as willing to take advantage of support systems, including school staff and an extremely supportive family who work with the school as well as with Stephany at home in all areas.

Liyah Carrillo
During a year in which Liyah Carrillo was affected by her mother's serious health issues, school was a struggle as she did not want to leave her mother's side. With support from her teacher and classmates at Patricia Kay Beaver Elementary School - as well as Student Support services - Liyah was able to stay current with her schoolwork. This support system was important as Liyah and her family coped with the death of her mother.

Through this difficult time, Liyah persevered and maintained her outgoing personality and perpetual smile. Because of the security of the school in her life, she is excited about her life as a fifth-grader and is excelling academically and socially. Liyah made the Honor Roll during the first semester with a grade point average of 3.6 and enjoys participating in classroom discussions.

Deja Windham
Deja Windham joined the Virginia Parks Elementary School community during the second trimester of her kindergarten year after moving to Ceres and being placed in a foster home. Now a second-grader, Deja is a very spirited, jovial child and has unrequited passion for life, despite the challenges she has faced.

Described as is a mover with great dance moves, Deja is making progress to be a better listener and better student through use of strategies like music and movement, positive reinforcement, the nurtured heart approach, and time-on-task goals.

Thoughtful and generous with an infectious smile, Deja is always willing to help her teachers and her peers. She aims to please and earned a "commitment" character award for making positive social choices and academic progress.

Emma O'Hanlon
All of Sinclear Elementary School's sixth grade teachers have unanimously nominated Emma O'Hanlon for the "Every Student Succeeding" award. Emma has faced adversity throughout her young life, with many personal and family life challenges posing a threat to her well-being. Staff members have collectively witnessed drastic improvements in Emma's self-esteem, confidence, body language and ability to develop relationships with peers.

Taking advantage of help from Sinclear's Student Support specialist, administration, and teachers, Emma has faced these challenges with courage. She has blossomed into a student who walks around campus with a newfound confidence, ready to encourage fellow classmates to do the same.

Julie Grijalva
Spina Bifida has never stopped Mae Hensley Junior High School eighth-grader Julie Grijalva from achieving her best. Described as a exceptional student who works to be successful in her honors level classes, Julie is an active participant in all of her classes. Academically, she puts in a great deal of effort on every assigned task and has shown tremendous growth.

She is a thoughtful, reflective young lady whose contributions during classroom discussion are valued by her teachers and peers. Julie has a generous and positive spirit and is a true joy to have in class, her teachers say.

Aiden De Los Santos
Despite the challenges he faces on a daily basis, Aiden De Los Santos comes to Cesar Chavez Junior High School ready and willing to work hard each day. The seventh-grader has an outgoing personality that brings a smile to all those who see him every day. Teachers say he does everything asked of him without grumbling or complaining as others his age might do.

Aiden seeks to be as independent as possible and loves showing and telling staff and students alike what he can do. He takes advantage of his lunch break to play basketball and has successfully motivated other students to join him in having fun.

A teacher shared, "Seeing Aiden wheel through my door each morning brings a smile to my face. He is a true joy and it is a great pleasure having him as a student in my classroom."

Samantha Hendrix
An Argus High School junior, Samantha Hendrix has overcome a history of attendance and academic struggles since elementary school. She was severely credit deficient when she enrolled at Endeavor at the end of her freshman year. She has experienced social anxiety, depression and economic disadvantages throughout the past several years. In spite of these challenges, Samantha has demonstrated remarkable academic success this year. Her perseverance and dedication makes Samantha a positive role model for all students at Argus and Endeavor.

Karla Chagoya
Three words used by Ceres High School staff members to describe senior Karla Chagoya are determined, motivated and positive. They were not always qualities she demonstrated.

Prior to Karla's senior year, she suffered from anger and she had a bad attitude. Even though Karla struggled academically, Karla knew Mr. Dias, her Success 101 teacher, believed in her and wanted her to succeed. Karla did not believe in herself and soon became credit deficient. She left Ceres High and attended Endeavor Alternative Education. There Karla began to work hard and make up her credits. She set the goal of returning to Ceres High as a senior year and as an Endeavor junior she doubled down on extra classes, completed extra credit assignments, was a Foothill Horizons 6th grade camp counselor and volunteered as a Teacher' Assistant at a local elementary school in Ceres. Her hard work paid off and this year Karla has returned to Ceres High with a positive attitude and a desire to succeed and to help others.

During first semester she earned a 4.0 GPA and also worked with teachers in both science and Success 101 as a mentor to encourage others while sharing her personal experiences. She shares with other students her past choices and how they negatively affected her. She desires to be a role model of someone who changed her attitude and ultimately her future.

Karla plans on attending Modesto Junior College in the fall and would possibly like to be a teacher.

The three remaining students were also honored by the Stanislaus County Office of Education at the countywide "Every Student Succeeding" event.

Antonio Palacio
La Rosa Elementary School fourth grader Antonio Palacio has made great strides academically, socially and emotionally. He is very focused on academics and received the Honor Roll award. But it wasn't always this way. He was withdrawn into his own emotional world and shut everything else out to protect himself, often covering his ears to shut out the world.

When Antonio enrolled at La Rosa in first grade, he began to bond with his teacher, which made him feel safe. By working with his teachers and other support staff, Antonio learned to reach out to others. He joined karate and began to thrive in the control, discipline, and socialization found in that activity. Antonio has even led his team through the karate stretches during class.

His goal is to become a scientist, as he loves studying about planets. In fact, he has a solar system in his bedroom that lights up at night. Antonio is also an accomplished "Lego-ist," putting together a Lego set with 1,060 pieces in 15 hours.

Jesse Vazquez
Blaker-Kinser Junior High eighth grader Jesse Vazquez is the type of student his teachers look forward to seeing every morning due to his positive attitude and infectious smile. Having receiving specialized academic and social support services since elementary school, Jesse has flourished both socially and academically at Blaker-Kinser.

He has learned to take risks and try new things, including becoming a leader on campus through the Associated Student Body class. As a member of ASB, he has participated in many events including school dances, rallies, and lunch time activities. In November, he did an amazing job of reading the morning announcements over the school intercom.

Jesse's teachers share that he does his best in class each day. Other students enjoy Jesse's kindness and how he shows that kindness to others on a daily basis. Jesse is an example of the motto, "Every day in every way, we are working to get better."

Cherith Franklin
Central Valley High School senior Cherith Franklin is the epitome of what the Every Student Succeeding program represents. Cherith has overcome severe adversity in her family and living situation and has used these obstacles as fuel to drive her in success and in helping others.

Having entered the foster care system in eighth grade, Cherith is striving to better the system for other youth. She became involved in the California Youth Connections as a foster youth advocate. She specializes in legislative and policy change to improve the foster care system for future and current foster youth. At age 14, Cherith served as the youngest advocate to ever be on this committee. She has presented in front of senators and reporters and has played an active role in passing bills such as AB 1060 which supports sibling connections within the system.

Currently Cherith works as a child care supervisor in Ceres Unified School District's After School Education & Safety program.

Her favorite part of the job is helping to provide a safe place for kids to go after school.

"There are so many kids I see that are going through things I can relate to, and I want to do what I can to make a difference for them," she told a teacher.

Cherith will be graduating in June A-G eligible and is applying to various California State universities. She plans to major in nursing and become a pediatric nurse.