Medical problems. Language barriers. Frequent moves. Poor choices. Learning handicaps.
Those are just some of the obstacles that are being overcome by some Ceres students who were singled out Wednesday morning for a special "Every Student Succeeding" breakfast held last Wednesday. 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.
The honorees were:
• Damien Yepez, Adkison Elementary School;
• Janet Cuevas, Carroll Fowler Elementary School;
• Stephania Castillo, Caswell Elementary School;
• Augustin Piza, Don Pedro Elementary School;
• Michael Stanfield, Hidahl Elementary School;
• Julius Diaz, Lucas Elementary School;
• Javier Urena, La Rosa Elementary School;
• Cristian "Alejandro" Colunga, Patricia K. Beaver Elementary School;
• Kiera Valdovinos, Sam Vaughn Elementary School;
• Johnny Rangel, Sinclear Elementary School;
• Fabian Delgado, Virginia Parks Elementary School;
• Aiden De Los Santos, Walter White Elementary School;
• Guadalupe Gonzalez Zepeda, Westport Elementary School;
• Erin Lewis, Whitmore Charter School of the Arts & Technology;
• Jade Stanfield, Blaker-Kinser Junior High School;
• Carlos Cabrera, Cesar Chavez Junior High School;
• Armando Barragan Morales, Mae Hensley Junior High School;
• Lucero "Lucy" Oliveros, Ceres High School;
• Angelina Casares, Central Valley High School;
• Jacob Martinez, Argus/Endeavor High School;
• Felipa Perez, Ceres Adult Education.
Each student's story, detailing their challenges and how they exceeded beyond expectations, was told during an audio visual presentation as each one appeared on stage to receive certificates of recognition from district, city, state and federal elected officials.
The honorees and their stories follow:
Damien Yepez was described as a wonderful young man who demonstrates true grit. This and the love and support of his family has helped Damian through challenging times, including health issues which require the use of a body brace. Damian never complains about wearing his brace and finds creative solutions that allow for his full participation in lessons and activities. He is committed to being in school and is an inspiration and a role model for his peers.
A fifth-grader who has overcome adversity throughout her life which would have made success impossible for many students, Janet Cuevas is overcoming.
This year has been particularly noteworthy as Janet earned Renaissance recognition for her academic performance for the first time since second grade. In addition, she recently graduated from Speech and Language services. Because of her focus and determination, Janet has also grown immensely in her social communication, managing her emotions and leading her to experience greater success in her relationships with others.
Carroll Fowler staff members say they are proud of Janet's grit and tenacity in navigating life's academic and social challenges and say she has a bright future.
Stephania Castillo comes to Caswell from a wonderfully supportive family that helps her prepare for and attend school with almost perfect attendance.
Stephania is kind, friendly, helpful, and extremely responsible. The first to take advantage of extra help from school staff, Stephania never quits and always works to the best of her ability. Even when the work gets hard, Stephania accepts the challenge with enthusiasm, completes all of her homework and classroom assignments and is ready for the next challenge.
The Caswell staff say her parents are a fantastic source of support for Stephania and her siblings. They pay attention to her attendance, grades, and overall success in life.
Earlier in his academic career, Agustin Piza suffered from health issues, resulting in excessive school absences and falling behind is school. He is now a sixth-grader at Don Pedro Elementary who has demonstrated many qualities that set him apart from his peers.
In the past two years, Agustin has demonstrated great progress as a student and as a member of the school community. He has worked with teachers and staff to establish individualized learning goals and has developed into a leader rather than a follower. Agustin has become a more serious student and demonstrates the grit needed to persevere and attain his learning goals.
Today, Agustin continues to work hard at closing learning gaps. He has become a more serious student and is now a leader among his peers.
Michael Stanfield began at Hidahl in the middle of his first grade year. Unfortunately, he experienced challenges which were barriers for his success in school.
Working with a school support team, Michael began participating in fourth grade where he demonstrated success. He was selected as the class representative to the Student Council, a leadership role among his peers. At first, Michael was very hesitant and shy to participate outside the class. When he was selected to receive an award recognizing his progress, he was hesitant to go up in front of the students without the support of an adult.
Michael is now in sixth grade and has managed to overcome challenges and participates in the general education classrooms. He is currently earning A's and B's in his classes.
Michael is a witty student who has dreams and aspirations of going to college. He has made significant growth during his time at Hidahl. In fact, this year Michael was awarded a certificate for earning the distinction of placement on the school honor roll.
Javier Urena is a polite and happy third-grader who has overcome significant medical conditions. While many students would be overwhelmed by these challenges, none of these obstacles have kept Javier down. He participates in lessons with enthusiasm and has blossomed as a student. Javier works hard to be independent, often saying, "I can do it myself!" and celebrates his success through his contagious laugh after every accomplishment.
One of his teacher's favorite things about Javier is how he enters a room. According to teacher James Hayes, "Javier often jumps into a room like a super hero announcing his presence with laughter and shouting, I'm here!"
Javier's presence is joyful, reminding everyone around him to love life, to smile, to share their happiness as he shares his. He brings this joy and laughter to school every day, always giving a 100 percent effort in and out of the classroom.
Julius Diaz exemplifies remarkable strength of character and resilience when it comes to succeeding in school. He has performed at grade level standards in both English and Spanish, and when he is not visiting doctors due to a medical condition, he comes to school with a smile, always ready to learn. He is respectful to his teachers and peers and is dedicated and enthusiastic about his education.
Just a few weeks ago, Julius overcame his medical challenge and has begun his journey to a normal childhood without medical concerns.
Supporting Julius at Lucas Elementary are teachers Maria Cuevas and Michele Turpin who have worked together to teach, inspire, and support Julius' bi-literacy and to ensure his success. Mrs. Cuevas shared, "Julius is that student who sets an example for the rest of our class."
Cristian "Alejandro" Colunga moved to the United States from Mexico one week prior to the start of school in August this year. When he arrived at school on the first day, Alejandro only spoke Spanish and had never been exposed to English. Since his arrival at Patricia Kay Beaver Elementary, Alejandro has been immersed in the English language and has made significant progress. Alejandro is a polite, well-behaved and dedicated third-grader. He strives to learn at the pace of his peers every day and will not accept modified assignments in class. He wants to do the same work as everyone else.
Surrounded by a supportive school community focused on developing leaders, Alejandro benefits from the variety of "Leader in Me" strategies used by staff and students at Beaver. This focus on leadership and charter development assists him in his emotional and language development. In addition, his peers have used the leadership strategies to assist Alejandro on the playground. Alejandro enjoys learning alongside his peers, and fellow students are all eager to support him in learning English and to make Alejandro's transition successful.
Alejandro strives to be the best student that he can be and always strives complete his work to the very best of his ability. He never hesitates to ask for help and takes the initiative in learning new lessons all day long.
Kiera Valdovinos, a third-grader at Samuel Vaughn Elementary, is already exuding the triumphant success of an individual who has endured adversities throughout her life. She has persevered through personal challenges that would break the spirit of most adults, let alone a third grade child; yet, despite these odds that seem insurmountable, she has demonstrated a resiliency and drive to persevere in a way that inspires others.
While this is her first year at Samuel Vaughn, she is currently soaring academically with straight A's and is serving as one of the youngest members of the board for Student Council. Eager to help others and always wearing a smile, one would never guess how much Kiera unfortunately has had to endure.
Rather than allowing these adversities to define her, Kiera smiles because she will not allow her challenges to have power over her. Kiera Valdovinos represents the notion of every student succeeding because she demonstrates that she not only has the power to rise above them, but she will do it in a way that will propel her forward with a triumphant success in life.
Sinclear Elementary School sixth-grader Johnny Rangel has attended three different schools in Ceres, and due to challenging circumstances has had to work hard to achieve success. Now blossoming as a student, by the fourth grade, Johnny's academics began to improve significantly and his test scores have increased since. He started making Honor Roll, an award he has been receiving for three years now. All of his teachers have commented on Johnny's positive behavior and attitude, his willingness to work hard, and his kindness displayed toward others. He continues to work diligently, gets along well with the students, and shows responsibility by making sure his assignments are completed on time.
Johnny has come a long way from the days when he was kindergartner who had difficulty with communication.
A second-grader who has attended Virginia Parks Elementary School since kindergarten, life circumstances posed challenges to Fabian Delgado. Over the last two years, Fabian has worked hard to overcome struggles and is now fully motivated to perform at his best every day. Fabian is building peer relationships and recently received the perseverance life skill award and stood and explained what perseverance meant to him at the assembly in front of students, staff and families. He also played a role in his classroom play "The Elves and the Shoemaker," which was performed to multiple groups, one with an audience as large as 50.
The school staff is proud of Fabian's progress and believes he will have a very productive future. He is such a remarkable student and puts a smile on faces with his hugs and smiles - and being the first student in the office each day greeting everyone and sharing how he is going to have a successful day.
Aiden De Los Santos
Dedication, resilience, a "can-do" attitude, inspiring, and "true grit," are all words that describe the character of Walter White fifth-grader Aiden De Los Santos.
Despite facing multiple challenges, Aiden impresses those around him with his work ethic and positive approach. In fact obstacles only seem to enhance his decisive resolve to be an active and successful student. Rather than giving up, Aiden chooses to concentrate on striving to succeed with every goal.
Aiden has made excellent growth in areas that are paramount to academic achievement. Aiden has exceeded expectations in so many academic areas.
In addition to academic pursuits, Aiden eagerly accepted the shared role of choreographer in dance class without hesitation. He plays a great game of basketball and has become a confident communicator, expanding his social circle.
Within a few moments of meeting Aiden, one cannot help but smile and feel the optimism of this joyful peace builder. Aiden is a constant source of inspiration to the students, staff, and community members of Walter White School.
Guadalupe Gonzalez Zepeda
Guadalupe and her family came to California when she two. After a difficult journey to their new home, the family moved frequently, resulting in Guadalupe attending multiple schools.
When Guadalupe arrived at Westport in fourth grade, she was extremely shy. She quietly did her work and began to make a few friends. As she progressed into fifth grade, Guadalupe began to blossom and gain confidence. As she ended her fifth grade year, her teachers would state over and again was, "that girl is amazing." Her sixth grade teacher now says that Guadalupe is a quiet leader and "can do anything you give her."
Guadalupe's teachers have found ways to harness her quiet leadership and give her projects to develop her skills. One project was the "Letters to Santa" charity. This charity organization had chosen Westport school students to receive a gift at Christmas time but needed to have all of the participating students write a letter stating their wishes for the holiday. Guadalupe spent countless hours in the library during her breaks helping younger students express what they wanted to say on paper. In the end, 200 kids benefited this school year and much of it would not have been possible without Guadalupe.
Guadalupe said that she wants to give her best so she can one day become a doctor.
In October, Erin experienced a health challenge which caused her to miss a lot of school. Even though facing a difficult recovery, Erin exceeded expectations by wanting to return to school so soon after an experience which others would have had difficulty overcoming. In spite of the challenges Erin has faced, she continues to persevere and reach goals that she has set for herself. Although Erin had the opportunity to stay home until she was able to fully regain her health, she took on the challenge of academics, helping her peers understand her situation, and fully participating in physical education.
In the few weeks after returning to school, Erin's parents received a phone call from Mr. Caulkins, Erin's PE teacher, asking if Erin could participate in sports that day because Erin was begging him to play. Even with days missed, she maintained and currently has exemplary grades.
Not only is she an exemplary student, Erin is an inspiration to those around her.
Jade Stanfield exemplifies resilience in the face of adversity. As a seventh-grader at Blaker-Kinser, Jade missed a great deal of school which caused her to become frustrated about school. She has since worked very hard and this year Jade has developed a can-do attitude and attends school on a regular basis. She has improved her grades and has maintained a 3.0 GPA for both first and second quarter.
A positive role model on campus, Jade joined the PHAST club which is dedicated to protecting health and slamming tobacco by organizing peer education and advocacy projects in our schools, communities, and Stanislaus County. Teacher Robin Johnson stated of her: "I have noticed a positive improvement in her overall health and well-being. She smiles more and seems more confident."
Jade credits her growth to the positive support she receives at school, especially from Mrs. Johnson, Assistant Principal Antony Little and time spent with her mentor from Youth for Christ.
After experiencing instability and loss at home, Carlos Cabrera struggled with academic and social skills. Eventually, Carlos made a home with extended family who support his desire to participate in school and community programs.
He has made great strides with his attitude, social interactions, and academics. He has become a part of the Community Youth Connection Program, through which he participates in community service projects and activities twice a month. The program coordinator and school staff have helped Carlos in his desire to become a student who engages in academic and social activities in a variety of settings.
Carlos has made the choice to work hard, be positive, and succeed. His grades have improved, and he has become a productive young adult who is contributing positively to his school and local community.
Armando Barragan Morales
Armando Barragan was a typical, active seventh grade boy who participated on the basketball team at Mae Hensley. Unfortunately, in the spring of his seventh grade year he developed health issues which caused him to miss school.
While most students would have put school at the end of a list of things to do, Armando was determined to keep up studies in all core subjects when he couldn't attend classes. With the support of his teacher and his family, he remained connected to the school by making frequent visits to his teachers and classmates. He worked diligently to maintain his studies to ensure a successful return to Mae Hensley and to be eligible to promote to ninth grade alongside his classmates. In addition, he visited school during lunch and also attended sporting events to stay connected.
Lucero ‘Lucy' Oliveros
Slight in stature and physically frail, Lucy Oliveros is an example for all that what some may see as limitations, she views as "an opportunity to do things differently." Beginning particularly in ninth grade, Lucy realized she was unwilling to accept any barriers to full participation in school and life. For Lucy these opportunities began as small ones, like playing a minor role as a stenographer in a school production. By the end of her sophomore year, Lucy played a supporting lead role in "Beauty and the Beast" wheelchair and all. As she gained confidence, Lucy began to seek out opportunities, like competing in Academic Decathlon, attending an overnight Gallo Leadership Camp, mentoring an elementary student, and serving as an animal rights advocate.
Lucy will be graduating among the top 20 students in her Ceres High School graduating class and looks forward to pursuing a degree in psychology at U.C. Berkeley. Because she knows that a child's physical disability can take a toll on their emotional wellbeing, Lucy is committed to helping adolescents achieve a positive mindset.
When Angelina Casares entered high school, she was dealing with an incredibly challenging home situation. During her second semester of the freshmen year, Angelina was rarely coming to school and made inappropriate choices in an effort to cope with what was going on in her life. During the end of that year, her situation at home changed and, with the support of family she has since blossomed. Through family support along with some crucial friends and individuals at the school, Angelina has created a new future for herself. She states that though challenges she has faced are perhaps the hardest thing that she has had to deal with, she feels now that it was also one of her greatest gifts.
Holding on to this belief has allowed her to excel in her academics. She now earns straight A's and B's, and last semester earned a 4.1 GPA. Angelina is currently taking rigorous AP courses, has a weighted college GPA of 3.66, and has been accepted to every college she has applied to, including Sacramento, Stanislaus, Fresno, and Humboldt State.
Angelina has since used her experience by mentoring freshmen girls going through similar situations. She has also volunteered to tell her story at the Point Break program this month. Angelina is a standout who seeks and finds opportunities to help and inspire others. Angelina plans to attend CSU Stanislaus to major in forensic science on her goal of becoming a crime scene investigator.
Jacob Martinez began his high school years with a health challenge which meant he was unable to attend the comprehensive high school. He enrolled in Endeavor High School where he has been a model student. A teacher of his stated, "Since entering my class, he finishes his work every week and has never missed class. Jacob earns good grades, is polite, well-mannered and a joy to have in class."
A commitment to learning, the support of his family, and the dedication of Endeavor teachers all contribute to Jacob's ongoing success in his quest for a high school diploma. He is a remarkable young man who has overcome adversity and is a model for others.
An English as a Second Language student at the advanced level in Ceres Adult School, Felipa Perez is dedicated and determined to perform to the best of her ability. She participates in classroom discussions and shares examples of her own life experiences with classmates and teachers, thus enhancing the quality of her classes and serving as a supportive peer. Felipa takes her responsibilities as a student seriously, and is always punctual, prepared, and produces course assignments that always exceed expectations.
It was learned that she had also been through the emotional and physical stress of caring for children with illnesses, and the trauma of losing her young daughter.
Felipa has a true desire to succeed in her new country, as she has been taking U.S. citizenship classes and is currently awaiting an appointment to take her exam. She says that she would like to become a U.S. citizen, and continue taking English classes so that she is better prepared to help her children and serve as a positive citizen.