Tears were flowing at the table where Heaven Henry, a sixth-grader at Carroll-Fowler Elementary, was having breakfast before being honored at the annual "Every Student Succeeding" award ceremony. The January loss of her mother was still painfully fresh at the table.
Heaven was one of 20 Ceres school students honored for overcoming a myriad of personal struggles that include medical problems, learning disabilities, deaths of loved ones and immigration snarls. Over scrambled eggs, fruit and potatoes, the students and their families and teachers were celebrated by the Ceres Unified School District.
At her table, Heaven, 11, was offering consolation to her grandmother, Gayle Pruit, who was dabbing tears from her face. The necklace which the Carroll Fowler sixth-grader was wearing was given to her by her mother before her death and it brought out the tears.
"She does comfort me but she took it very hard," said Pruit. "She has one brother and five sisters and they all took it very hard. There's been so much trauma in their lives, just one thing after another. Their mother had been sick since just before school started."
At 32 years of age, Stacy Lomeli died of an abscess stemming from complications from gastric bypass surgery that occurred four years prior.
"She has vowed to finish school like her mother would want her to do and to finish college. Her mother never got to be able to finish."
Heaven, who enjoys playing softball in Westport and playing the clarinet, was noted as an inspiration to her siblings and fellow classmates. Her teacher called her a picture of perseverance, fortitude, and personal leadership during the family crisis. At school, she continues to "stay the course" by asking ahead for homework assignments and keeping her teacher informed of her needs. Heaven continues to participate fully in class, maintains strong academic scores, and demonstrates excellent citizenship.
Others honored included:
• Hassan Imran of Adkison Elementary;
• Junemaya Armstead of La Rosa Elementary;
• Sabrina Brown of Don Pedro Elementary;
• Brianna Snow of Walter White Elementary;
• Kevin Wise of Caswell Elementary;
• Joel Rodriguez Arroyo of Hidahl Elementary;
• Mabrayan Hernandez of Lucas Elementary;
• Stephanie Juarez of Sinclear Elementary;
• Saidid Mora of Virginia Parks Elementary;
• Stephan Fechter of Westport Elementary;
• Arya Flores of Whitmore Charter School of Arts & Technology;
• Nathan Moore of Blaker Kinser Junior High;
• Sandy Benge of Mae Hensley Junior High;
• Jordynn Franklin of Central Valley High;
• Giovanna Vargas of Argus Continuation High;
• Duane Johnson of Sam Vaughn Elementary;
• Kevin Cardona of Cesar Chavez Junior High;
• Kristofer Benge of Ceres High School.
• Cristina Ontiveros of Ceres Adult Education.
Hassan Imran came to the United States when he was in third grade. He came to Adkison Elementary School as a neat, polite, yet exceptionally shy child. His reading and math skills were extremely low because he had no background in English. Hassan has learned a tremendous amount in three and a half years. Incorporating newly learned academic vocabulary into his speaking has made him an exemplary student. Hassan now holds his own in debate, speaks his comments, questions, and concerns freely in class, and looks to collaborate with peers. He is driven, unafraid to take risks, and a good friend who is compassionate to all. Hassan's written language is quickly catching up to his understood language, as seen in his grades which moved from first trimester C's to present term B's.
Hassan Imran is a student moving toward his career goal of becoming a mechanical engineer.
When Kevin's family moved from Merced to Ceres in 2012, he had to leave the only home he had ever known. Leaving friends, and a school that had made a great effort to help him reach his potential was not easy for him. For a child who historically was slow to warm up to anything new or different, he settled in quickly, finding good friends and working with his teachers to grow academically. Kevin has excelled in reading. While the average class Accelerated Reader goal is to reach 60 points in a year, Kevin has acquired 204 Accelerated Reader points. He also participated in Student Council elections and is a class representative. Kevin is performing at 3.5 or above GPA, always working to meet the social and academic expectations, being kind and compassionate towards his peers and staff and above all showing perseverance.
A Don Pedro School second-grader, Sabrina has been able to remain focused on her academic needs and to participate in her education while dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and emotional challenges. The resulting family breakup and economic difficulties have made life difficult for Sabrina. This was compounded by a court order that the family move from the Bay Area to the Valley. Sabrina continues to excel despite her past experiences, in part due to the support of the adults around her. Her mother has dedicated herself to creating a stable situation for Sabrina and to being at school regularly as a volunteer. This presence aided in building a strong partnership between mom and the classroom teacher, contributing to a strong home/school partnership in support of Sabrina's adjustment and learning.
Joel Rodriguez Arroyo
Joel attended Hidahl from kindergarten through third grade and his teachers described him as "sweet and respectful." Life as they knew it came to a halt in 2010 when his mother took Joel and a younger brother to an immigration appointment and were deported right then and there. Typically, deportation separates families, but for whatever reason, his mother was allowed to return to Mexico with her two sons, leaving their dad, grandmother, and all their belongings in Ceres.
Joel and his mother had many struggles in Mexico, where he was denied access to public schools because he could not read or write in Spanish. He was enrolled in a private Catholic school and was actually placed in a lower grade because of his limited proficiency in Spanish. Because English was a "strength," Joel was asked to be an aide for children learning English. Fortunately, Joel was able to make new friends and didn't feel as lonely anymore.
Joel and his family were able to return to Ceres in late 2011 and were elated when Joel was re-enrolled at Hidahl. When meeting Joel, one would never suspect that he has had to experience so much grief and heartache at such a tender age.
La Rosa Elementary School first-grader Junemaya Armstead has faced both physical and emotional challenges. She has a rare genetic condition which affects her mobility and her eyesight and has endured the loss of her single mother.
Fortunately, Junemaya has been welcomed into a supportive family and is thriving. When Mr. and Mrs. Maynard began their adventure of raising both Junemaya and her brother June as their grandchildren, they enrolled Junemaya in the Ceres school district. While her physical and emotional challenges were initially a concern, it soon became apparent that with the right combination of service and support this feisty and charming girl could survive and thrive in a general education setting. Her teacher describes her as "high energy, tenacious, resourceful, sensitive, outgoing, and charming." Her adaptive PE Teacher says, "Junemaya is a special young lady who is beyond her years in maturity. She knows herself and her physical limitations but is eager to learn and pushes herself to try everything to maximize her potential and be her absolute best."
Mabrayan Hernandez's father wanted to bring his family to the United States for a better way of life, but it was too expensive so he would come to work in the United States and send money back to the family. Unfortunately, he passed away while working in San Diego. The dream to bring Mabrayan to the United States continued when his grandmother learned about the dual language program in Ceres. When she learned dual language students are known to have higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates, cognitive advantages, and more interest in colleges and universities, she wanted those things for her grandchild. Although Mabrayan's mother could not afford to come to the U.S., she made arrangements to have Mabrayan stay with his grandmother.
Speaking only Spanish, Mabrayan was enrolled at Lucas Elementary Dual Language Academy. His timid look and large smile showed a student who was eager and scared to be enrolled in a U.S. school. Emotionally, that alone could be an obstacle, but with both parents not by his side, those obstacles would seem immovable.
As a first-grader, Mabrayan has become a star amongst his peers. In a school where Spanish and English are both valued, his authentic Spanish is a model for all his peers. His English is not as authentic, but his improvement in the English language in just a few short months is inspiring for other Spanish speaking students. Mabrayan's grandmother recently asked him, "Why the big smile today,?" and he answered, "Because I am planning on going to the university someday."
Stephanie is a young lady with a drive to learn. Part of Stephanie's longing to do well also stems from her parents' desire for her to have a good education. In Kindergarten, her family lived in Tijuana, but drove two to three hours each morning to get her to school in San Diego. When she was 8, Stephanie had to undergo surgery for treatment of an infection that caused holes in her neck, making it impossible for her to swallow. She was on medication for two years to recover from the infection. By the middle of her third grade year, the family had an opportunity to move to Ceres. Since being here, Stephanie has worked hard to excel, especially as a second language learner.
At the beginning of the year, she showed concern with her struggles as a reader. While others may have given up, she has continued to challenge herself to read as much as possible. However, she developed asthma in the Valley, which has caused her to miss school. When she returns from an absence, Stephanie does not hesitate to ask for the work she missed. Her work ethic, her desire to learn, and her ability to help others who struggle are truly traits that make her stand out as a success.
Through the support of her family, caring educators, and fellow students, Saidid Mora has learned to face obstacles with growing confidence, independence, and responsibility. Being diagnosed with brain cancer in second grade, has not stopped her from improving her grades in all subjects. Saidid strives to have perfect attendance, but mandatory medical appointments have kept her from receiving the perfect attendance award. Still, Saidid keeps up with her homework and school activities. Saidid participates in the Panther Pride activities and is always attentive, compassionate, and helpful to those around her. Saidid's positive attitude has inspired other students to try harder when they are challenged.
A Walter White sixth-grader, Brianna Snow demonstrates perseverance despite many challenges in her life. Her determination, combined with a strong support system, has assisted her in staying positive and on track in school. Her hard work paid off when she earned an Honor Roll award in the first trimester of this year. Brianna also participates in a math program at Stanislaus State on Saturdays, and in summer camp there as well. Brianna also took the initiative to run for Student Council, and enjoys taking on leadership positions.
Her guardian, Tom Morton, provides Brianna with a welcoming home, and comfort and support to meet her emotional and physical needs. Tom has taken steps to ensure that she is getting the best care and does her best academically. The contact he has with her teacher has proven to be beneficial in keeping Brianna on track and responsible for her actions both academically and socially.
In October, 2011, third-grader Arya Flores had an accident on the monkey bars for which her parents are very thankful since it resulted in tests that showed she suffered from an ominous cyst attached to her brain. To prevent any permanent neurologic damage, the Flores family decided to go forward with surgery at UCLA Medical Center -- a terrifying situation for Arya and her family. Arya handled the surgery and trips to the hospital with grace and strength. She underwent a multitude of tests and hardly even shed tears as she had IV after IV inserted into her arm. The surgery was successful and Arya has been thriving in school and at home.
Arya has risen beyond the goals that she has set for herself. She is an exemplary student and friend to all those around her. Recently Arya even received the Gold Honor Roll Award at school.
Stephan is a hardworking, serious Westport student who loves learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He is known to get excited over books and share interesting bits as he reads. His family has placed a priority on supporting Stephan in learning despite severe personal health challenges in his family. Stephan's father has had two years of active treatment for brain cancer, which included two brain surgeries. Throughout the ordeal, Stephan and his family maintained his attendance at school and his academic achievement continues to be excellent.
Even with the challenges at home, Stephan always has the drive and determination to work beyond what is expected. His mom consistently communicates with his teacher after school about what Stephan could do to excel, even after a perfect progress report was sent home. She said he loved working on the computer at home and challenging himself with second grade math once he had mastered his first grade standards. Stephan is seen at school as a happy student with a shy smile and an eagerness to gain knowledge.
Giovanna enrolled in the eleventh grade at Argus High School in September 2013. She had not attended
school since the ninth grade because a family emergency caused her to spend her sophomore grade year in Guatemala. She was unable to attend school there because she did not have the appropriate paperwork for enrollment. During the first semester of this year she has been dedicated and persistent as she pushes towards graduation, overcoming many obstacles.
Giovanna is an English Learner and also has learning disabilities. In addition, Giovanna rarely spoke the first several months in school. In a safe and comfortable environment, Giovanna found her "voice" in December and began interacting with staff and students. She has become an active member of the Student Council and has been a top candidate for Student of the Quarter recognition. Giovanna also represented Argus in the school Rotary Speech contest and was selected as a finalist to represent Argus at the Rotary Club competition.
As a freshman, Jordynn Franklyn only earned F's and D's, had poor school attendance, and rebuffed help from school's support. An unstable home life and its insecurity made it hard for Jordynn to focus and to trust staff. Since she began living in a foster home, Jordynn appears to be happy and possibly for the first time understands the meaning of stability. Jordynn has maintained above a 3.0 with her most current GPA being a 3.5. She actively participates in the Zeros Aren't Permitted (ZAP) program at Central Valley High where she meets with her learning director every day at lunch to get additional help on assignments. She now has a strong set of goals for a career, and plans to attend college.
Bright, intelligent, and hardworking, Christina Ontiveros is an English learner taking English Second
Language classes through Ceres Adult Education. She is a pleasure to have in class and a great role model for fellow students. An example of this was seen when Christina provided a U.S. flag presentation during class that impressed and inspired the other students to work toward becoming citizens. Christina was inspired to enroll in ESL classes to be able to better help her children with their homework. She expects her children to do bigger and better things and wants to ensure she does all she can to support their goals. She enjoys that the roles are reversed as her children are helping her learn English right now. Her goal is to graduate from high school and then go on to college and receive a degree.
When fifth-grader Duane Johnson came to Sam Vaughn in October, 2012, his records showed he had spotty attendance the previous three years. He also missed a lot of school time due to difficult family circumstances. Duane was several years behind in reading and had been moved from a foster family into a group home. While there had been many obstacles along Duane's path, this exceptional child inspired school staff to figure out how to reach Duane and help him move forward to achieve school success.
Although moving to a new town, home, and school was a difficult transition for Duane, it was obvious that he was a bright young man who was motivated to do well. With much communication between school and his residence, Duane began to thrive with a regular classroom routine, adjusting and making friends quickly. He would also stay after school voluntarily to work on homework with his teacher.
Not long after his arrival at Sam Vaughn, Duane was standing and speaking in front of his peers and his math skills were at grade level by the end of the year. Duane's success epitomizes the miracles that can happen when a dedicated school team collaboratively commits to making a difference in a child's life.
Despite his handicaps, Kevin Cardona is seen as a ray of sunshine with his infectious positive attitude that radiates from the moment he enters the Cesar Chavez Junior High campus. A young man who faces adversity with courage and good humor, Kevin Cardona is succeeding beyond expectations of school officials. Diagnosed with Spina Bifida and Arnold-Chiari at birth, Kevin has no voluntary movements from the waist down and has been in a wheelchair since a child. In addition to physical challenges, Kevin also experienced emotional turmoil when his parents were deported when he was in elementary school. Kevin was able to stay in the United States and is being raised by his grandmother and older siblings.
He maintains a 3.5 grade point average and is thriving in general education classrooms. In addition to his focus on academics, Kevin's true love is dancing. He is part of the Chavez Dance Team and has performed solos during rallies. Additionally, he participated in a Ceres Christmas dance celebration.
Despite living in unsteady home to the next, Sandy Benge has learned to apply herself academically. With the support of school staff, her grandmother, and pure determination to overcome her hardships, she has managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA. She is challenged in the classroom and is an active student in honors classes. She is also a part of a writing group that was formed by Mae Hensley librarian Rebecca Snow. Writing has been a big part of Sandy's healing from her unpleasant childhood experiences. She spends time after school almost every day in the library until closing working diligently on a novel she has started writing. Sandy sets high goals for herself and strives to achieve them each day.
Sandy refuses to be a victim and hopes to help other individuals who may have shared the same troubled family life that she did in early childhood.
Because he is upbeat, respectful and involved, one would never suspect that Kristofer had the odds stacked against him from the start. Having been transferred at least 20 times between different elementary schools, respite came as Kristofer was heading into junior high. He was allowed to visit his great-uncle and great-grandmother for Christmas, and found a loving home where he found had the stability, protection, and guidance that he needed.
Kristofer came to Ceres High School halfway through his freshman year and struggling academically. He is on track for graduation and completed the first semester of his senior year with a 3.17 GPA, the highest he ever earned. Kristofer has been involved in the CHS Criminal Justice class, and has also participated in the Police Walk-A-Thon and the active shooter program. Earlier this year, he participated in the Every 15 Minutes program. He has been a leader in the Pride and Achievement class, coaching his younger classmates.
Watching his grandmother suffer from arthritis has inspired Kristofer to find work in a treatment center, medical facility, or a resort as a masseur.
An eighth-grader at Blaker Kinser Junior High School, Nathan Moore, 13, has not allowed his medical conditions to get the best of him. In fact, Nathan has lost more than 70 pounds over the past few years through a healthy lifestyle of food and exercise, which gained the attention of a Fresno TV station by referral of the Madera Children's Hospital.
Nathan helps others by delivering food baskets to needy families over the holidays and helped collect and package gift boxes for U.S. servicemen and women fighting overseas. He is involved in Yes Kids and Yes Company, an entertainment group in Stanislaus County. Nathan has performed at plays at Gallo Centre, is a published poet and won honorable mention for his poem, "My Teacher" at the Aileen Jaffa Young Poets Contest. His self-confidence has been boosted by his drama and leadership involvement.