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CUSD honors 20 students for pushing past obstacles
Students from each school treated to breakfast and a program
Achieving student Morales
Overcome with emotion, Michelle Morales held onto son Nathan Morales, a Sinclear Elementary student who was one of 20 Ceres students honored at Friday's "Every Student Succeeding" breakfast.

What do rare diseases, language barriers, broken homes, deafness, learning disabilities and family deaths have in common? They are some of the obstacles that Ceres students collectively faced and overcame and for which they were recognized at Friday’s annual Every Student Succeeding breakfast. The event was held at the Ceres Community Center.

Each year the Ceres Unified School District has its schools nominate a student who’s been a shining example in achieving beyond difficult circumstances. This year 20 students, family members and respective school administrators and teachers were invited to a catered breakfast at the Ceres Community Center. The breakfast was the first time since 2019 that it was held in-person.

The 20 students honored were:

• Jesus Quezada, Adkison Elementary School;

• Oscar Jimenez Colon, Caswell Elementary;

• Jesse Hankins, Don Pedro Elementary;

• Annabella Balbuena, Joel J. Hidahl Elementary;

• Eduardo Pozos-Valenzuela, La Rosa Elementary;

• Phillip Diaz, Lucas Dual Language Academy;

• Xadrien Mulgado Rosales, Patricia K. Beaver Elementary;

• Alejandro Cortez, Sam Vaughn Elementary;

• Nathan Morales, Sinclear  Elementary;

• Daniel Casique, Virginia Parks Elementary;

• Khadijah Briggs, Walter White Elementary;

• Liliana Mendoza, Westport Elementary;

• Kameron Hankins, Whitmore Charter School of Art and Technology;

• Santino “Sunny” Breshears, Blaker-Kinser Junior High;

• Pedro Contreras Saucedo, Cesar Chavez Junior High;

• Anabelle Gil, Endeavor High School;

• Janet Cuevas, Central Valley High School;

• Keanu Rodrigues, Carroll Fowler Elementary;

• Ociel Yepez, Mae Hensley Junior High;

• Angela Mendoza, Ceres High School;

Each student was brought on stage to receive accolades while a short narrative explained why each was selected for the honor. After the 90-minute event students were allowed to take home balloon centerpieces, backpacks filled with school supplies and posters featuring giant photos of their selves.

The students and reasons they were nominated are as follow:

Jesus Quezada,

Adkison Elementary

Sixth-grader Jesus Quezada has made lots of growth over his elementary school experience. He has had many specialists who have helped him be able to go to general education for core classes and become successful.  With support, Jesus is accessing the general education curriculum for a great portion of the day. School staff is working toward his increased independence as he continues to increase his time in general education.

His support team at Adkison Elementary helps him daily through his ups and downs and is proud of the hard work Jesus puts forward to grow. Jesus has the goal of working to earn his high school diploma, and obtaining his driver’s license, and receive training to have a fulfilling job one day. He knows that he needs to continue to work hard so that he can achieve those things in his future.

Oscar Jimenez Colon

Caswell Elementary

Oscar started attending Caswell Elementary School as a fourth-grader. He is the youngest of three children and does a lot to help his oldest sister, Genesis. When his fifth grade year was limited to distance learning, Oscar did his best to get his sister onto her Zoom sessions while attempting to attend his own.

When school reopened, he struggled with attendance and was often alone at recess. This year Oscar has grown much, having only six absences, making many new friends and growing nine reading levels since September. Caswell’s multi-tiered systems of support team “adopted” Oscar and were able to provide him with anything he needed. He participated in the “Letters to Santa” program and has connected with the student support specialist. Oscar is always ready to participate in a number of sports, including soccer and basketball, and is working on increasing participation and motivation in class. 

Jesse Hankins

Don Pedro

Jesse Hankins has learned to thrive with a positive attitude and a friendly smile for all despite experiencing family and personal challenges at a young age.

Jesse came to Don Pedro School in 2019 as a fourth-grader struggling with anxiety that caused him to be ill at times. He was also experienced flashes of anger which frequently resulted in conflicts with peers during recess. The behavior has improved and the Jesse of today offers a quick, friendly smile for all, a wish to help others and a person that is a genuine friend to all he meets.

With the support of his teacher and the classroom support team, Jesse became a student with a quick shy smile and friendly greeting to peers. He learned to thrive by expressing when he needed a break or support. Now, a sixth-grader, Jesse spends the most of his school day in a general education class. He can be seen immersed with friends during recess as well as working hard on his class assignments.

No matter what comes his way, Jesse is ready to face it. With the support of both classroom staff and his family, the once-anxious boy is now one with a quick smile and happy greeting for all. 

Annabella Balbuena

Joel J. Hidahl Elementary

Annabella was recently reunited with her mother after years of separation. When Annabella began at Hidahl she was emotional and angry at her recent situation. She came to school with poor self-esteem and academics. She would regularly say “I can’t read that” and her attendance was poor during distance learning. Over the last year and a half Annabella has matured, is more positive and can be seen with a regular smile.

She attends the After School Education and Safety (ASES) program regularly and has developed good relationships with staff. All have pushed her to persevere even when things are tough.

Annabella is proud of her growth and keeps on trying. She has grown 11 to 12 reading levels which is approximately 2-1/2 years’ growth. She went from being a non-reader to a proud reader. The staff feels she is a joy to have on campus.

Eduardo Pozos-Valenzuela

La Rosa Elementary School

Now a sixth-grader, Eduardo Pozos Valenzuela has attended La Rosa since Transitional Kindergarten.  At first was extremely shy and would wrap himself around his teacher’s leg with both his arms and legs and stay attached as Mr. Allen walked around the classroom. Eduardo had many challenges to overcome. In addition to English being his second language, Eduardo had significant articulation, language and auditory processing disorders. Today he shows up to school knowing that he will have to work extra hard to be successful. He not only talks to peers and teachers now but shares what is important to him. Eduardo has even sung in front of the class and for teachers and plays games with peers. He treasures his Friday nights when he and his family enjoy pizza and a movie together. This weekly tradition is discussed every Thursday and the conversation conveys a deep love for and understanding of the importance of family.

Eduardo’s heart is big! In class, nearly every time the class engages in an academic Blooket game, he is either the winner or runner-up. His peers love and root for him.

Eduardo is kind to all of his peers regardless of the student; he truly embodies the Golden Rule of “treating others the way you want to be treated.”

Phillip Diaz

Lucas Dual Language Academy

Phillip Diaz maintains a positive attitude and an open mindset every day he attends Lucas Elementary. He works hard for good grades, attendance and behavior.

Phillip has a strong passion for football and loves playing football anytime he finds the opportunity. When he is on the field, no one can stop him; his eyes light up and his energy is contagious.

Phillip is considered a role model among his sixth-grade peers. He has a natural personality to coach others, is resilient, patient, and persistent, which is why his peers look to him for coaching. Phillip walks into campus every day with a smile, radiating positivity where he goes. He has touched many lives and inspired many.

Phillip has a strong support team that has been for him through challenging times. His mother has been incredibly supportive and is in continual communicating with the school team to ensure that Phillip receives the support necessary. Also, student support specialist Ms. Heather has been a crucial support provider collaborating with multiple staff members to ensure that Phillip is successful.

Xadrien Mulgado Rosales

Patricia Kay Beaver

Leadership Magnet School 

When Xadrien Mulgado was six, Xadrien’s mother unexpectedly passed away. Through this confusing and rough time Xadrien’s compassion and empathy were in the forefront. He consoled family members and visited his grandmother to make sure that she was okay while grieving himself. Xadrien was sad and confused and each time he heard something about his mom he would break down and cry.

With his maturity and resiliency he found time for himself. Playing football was his chance to release his anger, and he began acting and drawing as tools to express himself. It has been three years since his loss but in that time Xadrien has grown into a leader and an advocate for others.

While he has his moments, every day Xadrien can be found with a smile and being available to support those around him. Xadrien credits his family and Jessica’s House for helping him get through his tough times.

While Xadrien is struggling with his own grief, he is always a shining light for those around him. He is one of the classroom greeters and warmly welcomes everyone who enters the room. He is empathetic and kind to those around him. When his classmates are having a rough day he is the first to console them and share with them strategies to calm down and get through. Every adult spoken to about Xadrien was quick to say he is positive, compassionate and resilient.

As Xadrien gets ready for school each day he looks at a picture of his mom on the wall, he gives her a thumbs up to wish her a good day and blows her kiss to say, “I love you.”

Alejandro Cortez

Sam Vaughn Elementary

Alejandro Cortez joined Sam Vaughn as a first-grader a few years ago. Because of his visual impairments including bilateral coloboma myopia with astigmatism, hypotropia, esotropia, and nystagmus, Alex has a decreased ability to see and interpret visual information. The impairment adversely affects his education.

Alex is also an English learner who has support during the school day with integrated and designated ELD time. Alejandro has overcome his physical limitations and excels in math and reading comprehension. He loves to participate in class conversations and is an active helper.

Alex Cortez is an incredible young man with an excellent sense of humor. Despite his visual impairment, Alejandro shows up to school every day with a positive attitude and a smile. He is friendly, respectful and responsible on campus. When other students are having a bad day, Alejandro is always there to cheer his peers up. He shows a lot of empathy towards others, which is one of his strengths. He would even take the time to ask adults in his life how they are doing, and be interested in the well-being of people in his life. He works extremely hard in class, and tries his best every day. 

He has learned to navigate the technologies which help with his visual impairment. He comes to school with an enthusiastic attitude for learning. He loves drawing and playing with Popits at recess. Alejandro loves helping with classroom jobs and playing games. His favorite subjects are reading and math.

Ceres honorees 1

Nathan Morales


Nathan came to Sinclear with some major behavioral issues. He was physically aggressive with his peers and defiant with adults. He would frequently elope and roam the campus to avoid school work and interaction with authority. Nathan would get angry and not know how to deal with strong emotions and would lash out. School was very difficult for Nathan and he was struggling to learn. Over the last three years, however, Nathan has made strong gains both academically and behaviorally.  Nathan’s teachers have been patient, kind and understanding. He has also received support from administrators by reinforcing the work that was happening with the support staff. Nathan learned about the 12 Tools for building resilience, self-mastery and empathy for others. Over time and with a lot of compassionate support, Nathan has learned to regulate emotions and anger. He is kind to others and has started to take his learning seriously.

Nathan has made excellent growth as a reader and is also making strides in math. 

Daniel Casique

Virginia Parks

In the past, Daniel Casique has struggled in the classroom with severe anxiety. He has been slowly increasing his time and participating in the setting and has demonstrated great improvement in his behavior and regulating his emotions. His teacher, Erica Chaboya, has done a great job creating a safe, calm and accepting environment that is encouraging and allows Daniel to be successful. 

Daniel is also starting to seek friendships with his peers and is finding joy and excitement to be part of his classroom family. He is eager to do his best every day and now looks for reasons to praise his classmates, especially if he sees they’re having a hard time. Daniel has a funny side and is able to make the staff smile no matter how tough of a day they are having.  He has been able to adapt to changes in his environment and loves to share what he’s learning in Ms. Chaboya’s class. 

Khadijah Briggs

Walter White

Khadijah Briggs is a fourth-grader with reading challenges yet pushes through to grow.

She is in Heba Morad’s general education class, but gets support from resource specialist Michale Jackson as well as during Bridge to Learning classes after school. Khadijah has been trying extremely hard and does not let challenges stop her from being a successful reader and mathematician. Khadijah takes ownership and advocates for her own learning. Even when a task is challenging she continues to push herself and is incredibly determined. She is brave enough to ask for help to complete assignments and also asks for clarification when needed.

Khadijah plays an active role in academic class discussions. She is always encouraging and motivating her peers to persevere. Khadijah is also kind and always willing to help others when needed. She is a positive role model for her peers and always makes the right choices. She has a growth mindset and truly believes she can do anything that she sets her mind to. She radiates positivity no matter what the circumstances are. Every morning she comes into the classroom with an attitude that today is going to be a great day. Khadijah does not allow her struggles to define her.

Liliana Mendoza

Westport Elementary School

Westport Elementary School nominated Liliana Mendoza for the “Every Student Succeeding” award because she is a great student who has always strives to do her best despite a hearing loss in one ear and partial loss in the other. Liliana never complains about her hearing loss, nor has she ever used it as a reason to give up. 

Her third grade teacher described how Liliana bravely shared with the class about her disability, and the class was surprised because she is such a hard-working and high-achieving student. Now, as a sixth-grader, Liliana continues to be a leader in all settings.  Her current teacher shares that she is kind, compassionate, helpful, and confident.  Liliana is well respected by her peers because of her work ethic and friendly demeanor.  Liliana has maintained a high GPA through her years at Westport and has always been a responsible student in all aspects of the word. She is currently the ASB president which demonstrates her school involvement as well as her desire to persevere and succeed. 

Kameron Hankins

Whitmore Charter School of Art and Technology

Kind, positive and loveable are a few words that come to mind when Whitmore Charter School of Art and Technology staff members think of Kameron Hankins.

Life hasn’t been easy for him, but Kameron is a fabulous fourth grader and continues to persevere with a smile and a positive attitude every day.

At a very young age, Kameron was placed in foster care and lived in a number of different homes over the years, before becoming adopted.

Through it all, Kameron has come to school and worked hard. He receives extra support on campus, and has done so well that some of that support is no longer needed. He is always eager and excited to learn and works hard on all of his assignments. Due to reading difficulties, every assignment takes more effort for him to complete, yet he always rises to the challenge. Kameron asks for help without hesitation and his aptitude for science is impressive; as is his ability to think outside of the box and problem solve. He enjoys going to ASES to hang out with friends, loves sports, and trampoline flipping at home.

Santino “Sunny” Breshears

Blaker-Kinser Junior High

In elementary school, Santino “Sunny’’ Breshears struggled with impulsivity, was withdrawn, and unable to maintain relationships with peers. Often, Sunny would end up with the office as he was unable to manage his emotions. But since his transition to Blaker-Kinser Junior High where he is a seventh-grader, Sunny has embraced his new setting and has made great connections with his teachers, students, and support staff. Sunny has flourished and worked hard to become a remarkable student.

His teacher, Mr. Fox, says that he is smart, caring, eager to learn, eager to work, and always earns Hero points for demonstrating his Shark Pride. Sunny forms a good team with his sister who is an eighth-grader on campus. He is known to be artistic, assertive, and competitive. Throughout the course of the school year, Sunny has exceeded expectations. He is a proud member of the BK band class and was part of CUSD’s Band Day this fall. He enjoys being a member of a band and having an outlet to perform. Sunny plans to try out for the seventh grade basketball team this winter. 

Pedro Contreras Saucedo

Cesar Chavez Junior High

Pedro Contreras Saucedo and his family recently moved back to the United States from Mexico. He enrolled at Cesar Chavez Junior High as an eighth grade English learner. When he enrolled he had very limited English; speaking very few words but is expanding his language use considerably. Pedro takes advantage of all opportunities to learn the English language through each of his classes during collaboration or his online reading support. He is always willing to try academic tasks with reading, writing, and speaking English; especially sentences.

Pedro is efficient with computer skills and is able to find his classes on google classroom easily. He can find specific assignments needed to work on. Pedro has great attendance. He has only missed one day of school and it was due to a dental appointment. He is always on time and prepared for each of his classes. Pedro has a positive attitude, is helpful to others, and is respectful to teachers and all staff. He is friendly and always happy. At home, he helps his mother and father with younger siblings and has shown great maturity in spite of the hardships his family has endured. He has shown great resilience and determination. Through his hard work and support in place, Pedro earned a 3.286 GPA.


Anabelle Gil

Endeavor High School

Anabelle Gil came to Endeavor High School in the middle of her sophomore year behind in credits and no longer on track to graduate by the end of her senior year. She has faced several challenges, but it has not stopped her from setting goals and striving to achieve them. Anabelle grew up in an unstable home. She has experienced many challenges outside of school over the years. Her grades, attendance and friendships started to suffer as a result.

At an early age Anabelle learned how to ask for help. She has taken every opportunity to change her mindset regarding her education. Since enrolling in the Endeavor Independent Study Program she has been motivated to graduate and is a role model for her younger siblings. She has pushed past several bumps in the road in the program but has not given up and is back on track to graduate in June.

Anabelle has joined the Ceres Police Departments Explorer Program this year and has been actively volunteering in city and community events. 

Anabelle has shared that she has finally found her forever home and will be adopted by the end of the year. She plans to continue her education at Modesto Junior College. Anabelle loves this quote written by her mom to her: “Keep your head high, keep pushing on, keep your dreams in sight, and know you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Janet Cuevas

Central Valley High School

Janet Cuevas is a senior at CVHS who has overcome many obstacles in order to get on track to graduate this year. Through involvement in on campus clubs and credit recovery programs, Janet went from a 50 point credit deficient student, to currently on track to graduate. She plans to attend Modesto Junior College next year and take coursework in agriculture.

Janet has established a positive relationship with peers, teachers, and administrators and always has a positive attitude and a smile that is contagious. She has been involved in agriculture classes and FFA throughout her high school experience. Ag classes are largely hands-on, and she has shown tremendous growth in terms of taking initiative and having the confidence to take on large tasks. She is an important part of helping plan chapter-wide FFA activities in her Ag Leadership class, and is a tremendous asset in the animal science classes when taking care of the animals at the school farm.

Janet is resilient and continues to work tirelessly to earn academic success despite the many obstacles she’s faced. Janet outshines many of her peers and has proven to balance school, work, and personal life.

Keanu Rodrigues

Carroll Fowler Elementary

Sixth-grader Keanu Rodrigues has overcome many challenges that could have affected his life in a negative way but he has pushed through them all. 

Keanu lives with his Uncle Earl and Aunt Mary Lou who have been a huge part of him overcoming his challenges. They took him in once Keanu’s parents were not a part of his life but their absence has left a huge void in his heart. Uncle Earl has made a positive impact on Keanu’s life and has taught him to become a better person. His uncle and aunt have been consistent in being there for each and every school event or meeting and when called, they are there right away. 

Full of energy, Keanu loves to ride bikes, play tag.

Keanu works hard in class.

Despite his struggles, Keanu has touched many at Carroll Fowler with his infectious personality. Assistant Administrative Rachelle Garrett said of Keanu:  “I have loved being a part of Keanu’s life since he was 5 years old. He has a huge heart and would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. Keanu has challenged me, as a mentor, to deal with hardships in life in a better way by his example of how he enjoys life regardless if everything is perfect or not. I cherish all the special moments that Keanu has come to me upset, missing his mom and dad and just wanted to sit here with me for support.”

His sixth grade teacher,  Isaac Hussain, has been instrumental in helping Keanu stay on top of his academics despite the many obstacles he faces. 

“Keanu has grown so much ... he has worked hard on self-control and set goals early on to get good grades and make good choices on the yard,” said Mr. Hussain of Keanu. “

Keanu is involved in the SOAR squad, the school’s safety patrol, and is very faithful to his duties. 

Ociel Yepez 

Mae Hensley Junior High

In November 2019, Ociel Yepez suffered from a stroke as a sixth-grader and part of his recovery time was impacted due to the pandemic. This created multiple barriers for him. Ociel has had to regain speech, mobility and fine motor skills. During his recovery, Ociel received his education through the home and hospital program and made tremendous progress.

When eighth grade began, he had the opportunity to return to school in person. He has been attending Mae Hensley in person and doing a fantastic job. Ociel has exceeded staff expectations both academically and physically. He participates in classes, works well with adults, and has improved his verbal communication skills in the classroom. Ociel has maintained his academic status at a 3.8 GPA and continuously attempts to meet his goals daily. He maintains his love for basketball and continues to improve in many areas of physical education. 

Angela Mendoza

Ceres High School                                                         

At a young age, Angela Mendoza was diagnosed with a rare disease called Arginase Deficiency and cerebral palsy. This disease causes amino acids and ammonia to accumulate in the bloodstream which results in severe physical barriers. 

One of the first people in the world to be diagnosed with Arginase Deficiency, Angela found her diagnosis was so rare, there weren’t any medications and to this day there is no known cure. When Angela became one of the first patients to be a part of a case study at Stanford, it was a scary time for Angela and her family. For her first dose of medicine that was administered to Angela during a case study she was surrounded by her family and a room full of doctors at her bedside. No one, including the doctors, knew how her body would react. It was a monumental moment for Angela but also for the medical world. This day marked the beginning of a long journey.

Angela has spent most of her life at Stanford, where she has undergone multiple surgeries and clinical trials in hopes of one day finding a cure for her rare disease. Angela’s bravery has helped save lives worldwide, including her own.

Due to medical appointments, Angela has had to miss a lot of school. While many students might slack off and give up on their education, Angela pushes through and is on campus making sure she has every opportunity to learn. Despite missing days at a time, she continues to persevere through it all.  Angela is always full of joy and is constantly smiling. She never lets tough situations get the best of her. Angela has overcome so many obstacles throughout her life-she is incredibly resilient and persistent. Angela will be graduating in June and hopes to attend college and pursue a teaching career. Ceres High staff and peers admire Angela’s determination to be successful and consider her a true inspiration to everyone around her.

Ceres honorees 2
Ceres honorees 3
Xadrien Mulgado
Xadrien Mulgado Rosales, a student at Patricia Kay Beaver Elementary School, enjoyed breakfast with his teacher, Sarah Cerro. - photo by Jeff Benziger
Kristin Lilly-Porter
Sam Vaughn Elementary School student Alejandro Cortez with Assistant Principal Kristin Lilly-Porter during Friday’s “Every Student Succeeding” recognition breakfast. - photo by Jeff Benziger