Cerebral palsy. A parent's death. Autism. Blindness. Learning handicaps.
Those are just some of the obstacles that are being overcome by a select group of Ceres students who were singled out Wednesday morning for a special "Every Student Succeeding" breakfast held last week. Over scrambled eggs, fruit and potatoes, the students and their families and teachers were celebrated by the Ceres Unified School District.
Each of the 19 schools in Ceres picked a student who has continued to make strides despite monumental physical, emotional or mental handicaps.
The honorees were:
• Juvraj Shoker, a La Rosa Elementary School fifth-graders;
• Tammy Stephenson, a Don Pedro Elementary School student;
• Vanessa Ramirez, Walter White fourth-grader;
• Joshua Vasquez, Adkison Elementary;
• Eduardo Vasquez, Caswell;
• Daniel Camacho, Carroll Fowler;
• Kevin Quezada, Hidahl Elementary;
• Matthew Ochoa, Sam Vaughn Elementary;
• Victoria Leon, Sinclear Elementary fifth-grader;
• Sebastian Carreon Rivera, Westport Elementary;
• Amanpreet Kaur, Blaker Kinser Junior High;
• Katie Campusano, Cesar Chavez Jr. High;
• Katie Butrica, Central Valley High School;
• Sam Lubinsky, Ceres High School;
• Jorge Escobedo, Ceres Adult Education graduate;
• Lenny Lopez, Endeavor Alternative Center senior;
• Mandrell Miller Jr., a Virginia Parks Elementary second-grader;
• Mariah Mercer, Mae Hensley Jr. High;
• Grace Love, Whitmore Charter High School.
Each student's story, detailing their "very serious challenges" and how they "exceeded beyond expectations," was told during an audio visual presentation read by Assistant Superintendent Mary Jones 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.
After dealing with serious speech and general development issues, English learner Juvraj Shoker now speaks in complete sentences, and is much more successful in school. La Rosa Elementary School officials say he is interested in sciences and can memorize facts.
Plagued with a crippling shyness since the first grade, Tammy Stephenson is blossoming on her campus and breaking out of her social shell, said school officials. She excels in academics and made her way to a spot on the principal's Honor Roll. Tammy has taken on a leadership role and recently gave a speech that teachers never thought she could two years ago.
Diagnosed with autism at the age of three, Vanessa Ramirez was referred to a support staff that helped her tremendously. She is said to be blossoming in the general education world and does not give up no matter what. Characteristics of Vanessa include being loving, caring and thoughtful of others. Vanessa recently emerged as a class leader.
Joshua Vasquez came to Adkison Elementary as very unwilling to work with teachers and staff. He has improved, chooses to accept positive interactions on the playground and accepts correction with graciousness and asks "how can I do that?"
Visually impaired, Caswell's Eduardo Vasquez also has a heart condition which has impacted his ability to learn. He now asks for help and has developed into an enthusiastic learner and always has a positive attitude and gives his best.
Daniel Camacho once dealt with anger as a student but his attitude toward school has completely changed, due in part to a strategy developed by the IEP team at Carroll Fowler School. He now receives no behavior referrals and has become a leader in his class and school.
Kevin Quezada came to Hidahl Elementary School as a kindergartner from a family not knowing any English. He also had difficulties with oral communication and enrolled in speech in April 2009. His early teachers said he was unwilling to speak and afraid to express himself. Through hard work he exited Speech in May 2012 and is now proficient in English. Kevin now leads his peers in Accelerated Reader program points and made the principal's Honor Roll.
Matthew Ochoa came to Ceres as a second-grader still learning English. He struggled academically because of difficulties of focusing on studies, but turned around from resource intervention. Matthew has made Honor Roll status for all three trimesters of the fifth grade.
Victoria Leon was described as "sweet, organized and poised" and willing to help anyone. She lost her mother to cancer two years ago. Despite the devastating loss, Victoria has maintained near perfect attendance at school and maintains Honor Roll grades. A hard-worker, she also helps out her younger brother.
Westport School's Sebastian Rivera was once consistently performing low in reading and math. He was given more time with a resource specialist which allowed him to grow more self-confidence and raise his grades. He is now proficient in his math benchmark and is improving in English language arts scores.
Amanpreet Kaur, 14, came to the United States not knowing much English but has adopted a perfectionist attitude with all of her school work. Described as an "intellectual young lady" she was placed in an English development class and has mastered every goal set by her teacher. She has maintained a 4.0 grade point average.
Katie Campusano at Cesar Chavez Junior High experienced trouble in schools as the result of her parents becoming separated. She left for Colorado but returned to Ceres for her eighth-grade year. Through determination and a positive attitude, Katie began to improve her performance at school from a 1.8 GPA to a 3.0. She also enjoyed zero discipline referrals this this year.
Born with cerebral palsy and because her physical limitations keep her from playing sports, Katie Butrica focuses on her academics. She enjoys a weighted GPA of 4.17 and has already passed three Advanced Placement exams and is enrolled in another three AP classes. She has received awards in FFA and Academic Decathlon. Jones said Katie often battles a misconception among others that because she walks and looks different that she thinks differently. She feels an opportunity to challenge those stereotypes.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis resulted in blindness for Sam Lubinsky by the time he was seven. Loss of such a key sense would cause most people to crumple but Sam persisted in learning how to live without eyesight and has excelled academically. Sam already has his sights on college where he plans to study human biology or wild life studies. He is expected to be a powerful role model in his life.
Jorge Escobedo enrolled in the CUSD Adult Education program in fall 2012 because he only received a Certificate of Completion rather than a diploma at Central Valley High School. He enrolled to earn the missing algebra grades that stood in his way of a diploma. Jorge originally intended to focus only on algebra through the independent study class but to double the amount of credits, decided to take night class. He would often show up early and when a family member could not give him a ride he would bicycle over to CVHS. Escobedo earned his diploma.
Lenny Lopez found himself 35 units short for a diploma so stepped up his efforts at Endeavor Alternative School despite struggling. At the beginning of his senior year Lenny enrolled in the independent study program and is now achieving at the highest levels and all scholastic endeavors. Even though he is living in less than perfect conditions, he is driven and is now on track to earn his diploma this year.
Mandrell Miller has excelled in Virginia Parks Elementary School despite birth defects that resulted in deformities and loss of digits in his hands and feet. He initially struggled with listening, fine motor skills, sight and school work. Mandrell has overcome many obstacles and one teacher noted he never has uttered the phrase "I can't." Mandrell was narrator of his class' holiday production. He's now performing at grade level in math and making strides in reading and writing.
Despite being born with spina bifida and confined to a wheelchair, Mariah Mercer was maintained a rosy outlook and cheery disposition that encourages and inspires others. She participates in a variety of school functions and bears down hard improve her grades at Mae Hensley Jr. High.
Despite physical challenges and ever-present pain from severe skeletal and muscular scoliosis, Grace Love has maintained a 4.0 GPA at Whitmore Charter High School. She pushes herself to lead as normal a life as possible.
Grace participates in leadership and fundraisers for the Arthritis Foundation and also volunteers in a kindergarten class. She has also served as a Make A Wish ambassador for Stanislaus County and been a spokesperson at a gala. She is a senior who desires to attend U.C. Davis to major as a school psychologist.