Obstacles can often hinder a person for a lifetime. When a student overcomes them, the results can be inspiring and reason to celebrate.
Ceres Unified School District celebrated 20 students Wednesday morning who made a decision to move past the obstacles which individually threatened to cripple them during the “Every Student Succeeding” Awards Breakfast. The event was held at the Ceres Community Center.
The recipients were:
• Hael Mohsin, Adkison Elementary;
• David Bautista-Vasquez, Carroll Fowler Elementary;
• Baylee Rowell, Caswell Elementary;
• DeAndre Perry, Don Pedro Elementary;
• Sophia Berber, Hidahl Elementary;
• Lucas Akins, La Rosa Elementary;
• Crystal Gomez, Lucas Elementary;
• Jeffrie Amador, Sam Vaughn Elementary;
• Davian Alvarez, Sinclear Elementary;
• Ashley Cullum, Virginia Parks Elementary;
• Giana Breshears, Walter White Elementary;
• Israel DelaTorre, Westport Elementary;
• Bert Zapata, Blaker Kinser Jr. High;
• Layla Nevarez, Mae Hensley Jr. High;
• Reghan Allred, Patricia “Kay” Beaver Elementary;
• Beyonce Aboytes, Argus High School;
• Angelisa Serena, Cesar Chavez Jr. High;
• Beatriz Camarillo, Central Valley High School;
• Madison Boling, Whitmore Charter High;
• Christian Ramos, Ceres High School.
Three of the honorees are representing Ceres Unified School District at the ACSA Region VII “Every Student Succeeding” Awards ceremony at the county level.
Here is a recap of each recipient and their struggles:
Hael Mohsin was selected because he demonstrates a willingness to learn each and every day despite his academic and social challenges. He is nearly blind, yet always has a smile on his face even though it is challenging for him to connect to peers due to his shyness and awareness of his disability. He is working on making more peer connections. He demonstrates a positive attitude daily and never complains about his challenges.
Hael missed a lot of schooling over the past year due to having surgery on his eyes, yet he perseveres and is open to new strategies and equipment to help him meet the academic standards of fifth grade. The site has worked with the program specialist, general education teacher, and visually impaired teacher to come up with a plan that would best support Hael’s specific needs. Once the team understood his needs, a plan was developed and implemented. He currently uses a Visio Book in class that enlarges everything to a font size he can see. A visually impaired specialist also works with him several times a week as well and is teaching him Braille. He is also learning how to use several different applications on his Chromebook that allow him to access the internet and complete his work.
Carroll Fowler Elementary
A sixth-grader at Carroll Fowler, David has come a long way since he enrolled as a fourth-grader. When he arrived, David had limited speech, would sometimes produce small drawing or comics, and rarely engaged in a full conversations. Eventually, he began trusting the staff and started to open up about things. He shared about some home experiences, and how hard it was to come to school each day. The staff has helped him understand that it is okay to be different, to ask for help, and to be sad sometimes, but urges him to share his feelings in order for adults to help.
Through special education services and intervention resources, inncluding peer groups along with reading, math and visual aids, the staff is seeing a difference in the area of emotional regulation. It used to take hours for him to “reset” because he would not share what was bothering him. Now if he becomes upset or emotional, he lets adults know when he is ready to talk.
Baylee Rowell is a kind, helpful, responsible sixth-grader who has experienced a difficult start in life due to a chaotic and unpredictable home life. Even though her life has been somewhat unpredictable, Baylee always keeps her head up and continues moving forward.
Baylee was described as a super resilient student who has not let challenges keep her from succeeding. The school staff has been available to support Baylee, her mother and her three brothers who are quite “active” and require mom to spend an extensive amount of time corralling them. Baylee has had to be responsible for a lot of her own learning and success. Her attendance is excellent and she walks her younger brother to school every day. She is a good friend and helps anyone in need. She is an excellent reader and enjoys reading morning announcements for the school.
Don Pedro Elementary
DeAndre arrived at Don Pedro Elementary in 2017 as a fourth-grader who had to leave all the family he had ever known in the Bay Area and move into a local group home. He was wary of trusting anyone and displayed a standoffish and sometimes abrasive attitude. He was a scared young man who endured some traumatic changes in his life. With persistence and patience of the classroom teacher and support staff, DeAndre began to open up and express his frustration with the routines and structure of group home life. He told his teachers of his dream to live in a home “without an office” and “with his family.” Slowly, DeAndre built trust and staff found what worked to help him participate in learning.
In his fifth grade year, he embraced learning, grew his reading level and decreased his need for support. He did classwork alongside peers, grew in his ability to embrace challenges and grow his learning stamina. DeAndre participated in the annual talent show, rapping a favorite story to a school wide audience. Most recently in his sixth grade classroom, DeAndre wrote a paper about things important to him in which he wrote that “everyone here,” stating “everyone is with him.”
Joel J. Hidahl Elementary
Sofia Berber suffers from a genetic disorder called Marfan Syndrome as well as scoliosis but she is the definition of perseverance. Her medical conditions have placed Sofia in an out of the hospital multiple times each year for surgical procedures yet maintains high spirits. It would be easy for Sofia come up with reasons not to go to school but that is not Sofia. Day after day she eagerly returns to school. Unless medically require her to be away, Sofia makes school attendance a priority. Even on days where Sofia is experiencing pain, one would never know it as she bears it with dignity and silent suffering.
Ms. Berber often exhibits a high spirit and love for school. She can often be found showing her compassion toward other students, even when she may be “under the weather.” Once a classmate was experiencing difficulty coming into class and Sofia gave him a lollipop. When asked why, Sofia explained that she hoped it would help him stay in class and behave.
Lucas Akins first couple of months at La Rosa were rough. He would cry daily and refuse to let go of mom when dropped off. He stayed quiet, didn’t like a lot of noise or a lot of attention and would sit by himself and rock back and forth, especially when demands were placed on him. Lucas struggled with his fine motor skills, often refused to do school work and at times fell asleep in class. There would be times when Lucas would play, be happy and share his extensive knowledge of dinosaurs with Mr. Allen. Lucas would even correct his teacher if he mispronounced one, however, all of his challenges seemed to outweigh the positive interactions.
He was provided with supports like extra time on assignments, repeating directions, frequent short breaks to ensure task completion and other strategies. Lucas qualified for Special Education services in the area of reading comprehension which was affecting his progress in his classroom setting. Through the district’s focus on building Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), the school has provided both academic and social emotional support for Lucas who is beginning to make some progress socially, emotionally and academically. Lucas is communicating and is more expressive about his wants and needs.
Lucas Dual Language Academy
The life of Crystal Gomez, then a kindergartner at Lucas Elementary Dual Language Academy, took an unexpected turn when her mother became very ill and that had a profound impact on her education. Her attendance took a hit. A few years later, Crystal’s mom moved to Mexico where she could apply for a new visa and have less expensive medical bills. For over a year now, mom continues to wait in Mexico for her new visa hoping that it arrives soon. Crystal has continued to stay strong as her father, brothers and sisters all await her return. Crystal values her education even more now and has improved her attendance over the last year.
Now a fourth-grader, Crystal has a strong support team and has benefited from being a part of a dual language school where the focus is on attaining biliteracy in both English and Spanish. The dual language schedule and collaboration between two effective teachers this year, Amanda Porter and Jose Estrada has made a positive impact on her education. Student support specialist Heather Mullany and Administrative Assistant Daniela Tapia are providing her social emotional support. Her parents have ensured that Crystal has the necessities she needs to meet all her emotional and physical needs.
Sam Vaughn Elementary
When Jeffrie arrived at Sam Vaughn as a kindergartner he was virtually unable to communicate with words. He had lived in multiple homes, and his grandparents had recently started caring for him. Jeffrie had difficulties with personal boundaries, staying in the classroom, and displayed physical aggression due to lack of communication skills. While his actions were of great concern, Jeffrie’s demeanor was always one of happiness and love, and his behaviors were never malicious.
After kindergarten, Jeffrie was unable to function in a regular classroom setting because of his explosive behavior. However, the team at Sam Vaughn believed Jeffrie could benefit from a special program with wrap-around social emotional services, one-on-one support, and daily communication with his family to ensure he receives the needed services and supports.
Today Jeffrie now advocates for himself, his behaviors are normal, he has many friends, and attends general education classes like his peers. The exceptional efforts by his grandmother Valeri, the dedication from the Sam Vaughn team, along with Jeffrie’s hard work, have created a powerful example that every student can succeed.
When Davian arrived at Sinclair as a third-grader, he did not demonstrate school appropriate behaviors. He struggled to make friends, would not communicate with adults and often was alone at recess. He began receiving services from our Student Support Services counselor and the staff worked out a Behavior Intervention Plan with the psychologist. Communication with the parents became regular and Davian began to improve his emotional responses to adults. Some days, he would participate in the academics of the classroom and his behavior was becoming more in line with what is expected of a student.
With the help of his teacher and site administration, Davian was given a plan of action to assist him in learning to navigate the expectations of the school system. As fourth grade progressed, Davian began to make many academic improvements and made even greater improvements in his emotional and behavioral stability. Davian was making friends and having fun at recess and PE with positive social interactions with his peers. Davian and Mrs. Bonales work very well together. When Mrs. Bonales moved from teaching fourth grade to fifth grade this year, she talked with Davian and his parents and they all agreed to keep the positive energy moving forward and have Davian in her class for a second year. Davian has learned how to behave at school and has established appropriate relationships with both peers and adults. Davian has made exceptional progress.
Virginia Parks Elementary
Ashely arrived at Virginia Parks last year as a fifth-grader. She and older brother Andrew were homeless at a very young age which resulted in numerous struggles for her family. The siblings eventually entered foster care. Andrew did not want to be separated from Ashley so he fought hard for them to be adopted together by the same family, which became a reality five years ago. They have found a family that loves them.
Since she arrived Ashley has really begun to establish friendships. It took her a while to adjust to adults and peers and she has become much more social and initiates conversations with adults and peers more willingly.
Ashley has received academic intervention and is also a member of the “Building on Greatness” group this school year. While in Intervention for Math, Ashley began showing more confidence in herself and abilities as the year progressed. She quickly began exhibiting stronger academic skills as she gained emotional stability. She enjoys receiving one-on-one attention and small group services. As her confidence has developed, Ashley has begun opening up to peers and teacher and is building friendships with others.
Ashley made Honor Roll the first trimester in spite of the hardships she’s been through. She is such an inspiration to all those around her.
Walter White Elementary
Giana has made significant improvements academically, socially, and emotionally. She entered the sixth grade at a third-grade reading level but has since increased her reading level and surpassed her goal. This may be due to her newly found passion for reading. While her mother worked to support her and her siblings, Giana has had to face uncertainty in her family’s economic and living situation. Despite family challenges beyond her control, Giana comes to school with a growth mindset and always gives 100 percent to any task. Being the oldest child, Giana helps her parents with her younger siblings that require support.
Giana has become a strong leader in the classroom and she motivates her peers to reach their fullest potential. She arrives daily to school with an open mind and grit that cannot be taught. She actively participates in school events and also plays football through the youth football league. She is conscientious and takes responsibility for her education, exemplified by the fact that she often reaches out through email to her teachers and support staff when she is absent, clarifying what assignments she will need to complete in order to keep up with her school work.
Israel Dela Torre is an exceptional young man who has defied the odds. He initially struggled with attendance, grades and self-confidence. Israel was very guarded and was not receptive to the efforts of students nor staff who tried to build relationships with him. He isolated himself and was often seen alone under a tree, always observing, rarely interacting. Academically, he struggled.
Home life was not stable and his attendance suffered early on. Israel became connected with the site Student Support Specialist and slowly, staff began to see Israel take more chances, academically and socially, and he started to make progress. Israel has not let his setbacks at home become an excuse for not pushing himself forward. He continually works hard, is making progress, improving his attendance, reading more, and connecting with others. Last year, Israel made the honor roll for the first time and his dad was there and proud to see his son’s growth. This year, for first trimester, Israel earned straight As. He now goes out of his way to greet others, supports students who are having a rough day by offering his gentle friendship, and is becoming a much more confident young man.
Blaker-Kinser Jr. High
Bert Zapata has been at Blaker for both his seventh and eighth grade years. During this time, he has been in a special education program to support his social and emotional health and wellbeing.
While Bert has many obstacles that could get in the way of his success – including struggles with homelessness in addition to his needs as a special education student – Bert has performed beyond expectations. He is now in mainstream classes for part of the day as well as leadership class where he promotes school spirit and a positive culture on campus. Bert has a great deal of help at school from his teachers, mental health clinician, behaviorist and paraprofessional staff who support him daily.
Bert also attributes his success to his aunt who has been ensuring he makes it to school on a daily basis.
Mae Hensley Jr. High
Layla has demonstrated resilience and maturity while maintaining focus on her academics. She has endured many barriers that affected her success in the past. Through personal struggles and mistakes, she has found the strength to keep learning and growing because she realizes that education is the key to her success. Layla has found her voice as a leader on campus as well as a role model for younger students.
The Mae Hensley team has practiced constant communication with Layla, clearly outlining expectations and helping her reach her potential. She has worked with a social skills facilitator, student support specialist and has had regular check ins with her learning director as well as the assistant principal. Layla attended summer school to prepare herself for her eighth grade year and also joined the advanced dance team as a committed, vital member.
Layla has made dramatic improvements to her academics and behaviors at Mae Hensley in a positive way. She actively participates outside of the classroom and contributes to the school culture. She has assisted staff with being a peer mentor to younger students who share similar struggles and made similar mistakes. She has been able to share her story in hopes to help other students find success.
Patricia K. Beaver Leadership Magnet
Reghan continues to overcome multiple medical issues, including epilepsy, anxiety and depression which has impacted her educational career for many years. Reghan also has a learning disability but continues to meet and exceed all of her academic goals.
Prior to attending PKB, Reghan was a student who struggled academically and was not outgoing. She did not like to speak in front of others or get involved in school activities. However, she has excelled at Beaver. She currently holds a grade point average (GPA) of 3.357 and has learned to find her voice by advocating for herself in all of her classes.
She volunteers to participate not only in class, but is a part of Leadership Crew, Legacy Team, Teens Run Modesto and the campus Community Service elective. Reghan’s mentors include Mr. Wells, Mr. Macias and Mrs. Wells as part of Teens Run Modesto. She also receives specialized academic instruction from Mrs. Ramirez, and has a tremendous support at home with her parents and sister. Reghan has become a regular public speaker at leadership events, as well as at school rallies and parent events. Reghan has overcome many challenges and shines as a true leader at PKB.
Argus High School
Beyonce Aboytes moved from Redwood City to Ceres after her sixth grade year and experienced a bit of a culture shock. Junior high school was a struggle as she was adjusting to her new home and often felt like she didn’t fit in. Feeling like an outcast her freshman year, she started to hang around a group of friends who did not make school a priority. Her struggles continued as a sophomore, leading to her becoming deficient in credits needed for graduation. In an effort to recover credits and earn a high school diploma she transferred to Endeavor Alternative Center. Once at Endeavor, Beyonce felt like she had failed and lacked the motivation to continue school. She was isolated at the time and was struggling with anxiety. She did not drop out, but she earned only 7.5 credits during her entire sophomore year of high school.
At the beginning of her junior year, Beyonce transferred to Argus High School for she felt she needed to be in a daily school environment for support and daily contact with teachers and her peers. Beyonce realized her junior year would be a pivotal time if she wanted to graduate on time so she made the decision to get back on track to earni the credits necessary for her diploma and ultimately earned 75 credits her junior year.
Beyonce has continued to apply herself and has maintained a 3.0 GPA this year. As the youngest of seven children, she will be the second to earn a high school diploma. She is not sure what she wants to eventually would like to be a business owner.
Ceres High School
At a young age, Christian Ramos began to show great athletic ability. While learning to play baseball, his family began to notice that he had a hard time seeing the ball. His father was the assistant coach and helped Christian by teaching him how to adapt to the different positions given his difficulties with sight. He became very good and the All-Star coaches noticed him, causing Christian to be the winner of the All-Star game ball that season. His great skills continued to flourish when he joined the Saints, a Fremont football team, at the age of eight. That year, Christian became the quarterback and led the team to become the winners of the Fremont Football league championship with an undefeated season. In addition, he received the football MVP, and was recognized as a legitimate leader on and off the field.
Christian’s vision continued to decline and by age nine, Christian was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that causes severe vision loss over time. The condition has no cure and is not correctable with any form of visual aids. Specialized dark sunglasses are required to protect his eyes. Christian has worked closely with mobility specialists who support him with how to best access learning materials, and teach him how to navigate his environment. Christian puts in extra hours on schoolwork to make up the gaps caused by his vision impairment. He attributes a strong work ethic and self-discipline to his success. Christian currently has a 3.3 GPA and is on track to reach his goal of going to a four-year university.
Christian walks around campus confidently. He demonstrated this confidence by trying out for the basketball team. Without any special treatment or accommodations, Christian succeeded and made the Ceres High basketball team in 2018-19. Despite his 5-foot-4 stature and visual impairment, Christian was a great addition to the team. He currently referees basketball for the city league for part-time employment.
Whitmore Charter School of Art & Technology
Madison Boling likes to be called “Muscles” out on the T-ball field because it makes her feel strong, confident, and important.
She was brought into the world having to battle. Her organs are reversed in mirror image in her body, she doesn’t have any cilia to help her break down mucus which can cause her to get sick often, and she is missing the last two parts of her spine. Her brain sits lower on her spinal cord, she doesn’t have nerves for her bowels and bladder, yet she is always smiling. Madi doesn’t make excuses for her everyday battles – she fights through them. Not many would know she couldn’t walk until she was almost 2 but eventually she learned.
She started talking and eating much later than other children, but eventually she did. Not many would know she had open heart surgery at 14 months old – but now her heart beats strong.
Madi is a shining light at Whitmore Charter. She can be found skipping and laughing with friends and staff members. She is independent, has a love for learning, and has a way of communicating that makes hearts melt. She is a caring young lady who doesn’t quit. People with Madi’s condition are often born without legs, so it’s a miracle that Madi can walk.
Although the last couple of years Madi has shown growth academically, she has struggled emotionally. She struggled as her father was hospitalized three different times for three different reasons. She was able to receive extra support and learned strategies to better cope with unfortunate circumstances. Madi is now able to talk about concerns and isn’t so afraid when her dad has a doctor’s appointment.
Madi is a strong little lady! She will continue to visit doctors, have numerous appointments, and be different than others around her but that just makes her special!
Cesar Chavez Jr. High
At a young age Angelisa was exposed to drugs, gangs, and violence at home. She witnessed her mother suffer from mental illness, drug addiction and incarceration. Her father was involved in gang and criminal activity which landed him in prison. All she knew was anger and violence, and she was in often trouble for fighting. At the age of 7, Angelisa was placed into foster care but her struggles continued. Now in her second foster home she is thriving and surrounded by loving parents and positive role models.
In Angelisa’s time at Cesar Chavez Junior High she has been nothing but a guiding light and a shining star. She walks on campus every day with a smile and a warm heart. She has built strong relationships with both students and adults of whom she seeks out on a daily basis just to say hello. She has even brought gifts such as sparkling water to the staff. Angelisa maintains high academic standards and has a large thriving group of friends. She makes a positive impact on campus and encourages her peers to do the right thing.
Angelisa has every right to be angry and resentful of the world, but her maturity and experiences both good and bad have built the strong, caring, loving, motivated, and kind-hearted young lady that we are blessed to be around every day. When asked what made her trust people again, Angelisa said “After a while you realize that not everyone in the world is against you.” She attributes her positive attitude and success in school to the people she surrounds herself with.
Central Valley High
At 12 years old, Beatriz started experienced neurological symptoms and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Her diagnosis impacted her education by causing severe fatigue and various physical symptoms, but Beatriz has remained steadfast in her dedication to her academics.
Beatriz continues to excel and challenge herself with Advanced Placement courses. Beatriz serves as a leader in role as vice president of the chapters of the California Scholarship Federation and the National Honor Society. She is also an active member of Ambassadors. Beyond the confines of Central Valley High School, she works with children in our school district through the ASES program and volunteers in her local church for catechism.
Beatriz refuses to allow her disability to stop her. Her perspective is that it is simply an obstacle she can conquer. Much of this perspective is attributed to the unwavering support provided by her parents.
Beatriz’s parents and teachers have established a plan to support her academically in the classroom; however, Beatriz often accomplishes many of her tasks and responsibilities without any additional accommodations. One of the biggest obstacles that Beatriz faces is the fatigue that is caused by her condition. Working with her parents and teachers, Beatriz has learned to prioritize rest and be an effective time manager. She appreciates her parents for all they have done to put in place a supportive environment conducive to academic success. They have served as unwavering support through the entire journey she faces.