San Jacinto Valley Students Honored

Photo courtesy of John P. Hess/Creative Industries Media Group

The Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Month program recently recognized seven local high school seniors for demonstrating character, integrity, love of learning, involvement in school activities, athletics and community service. Students were nominated by teachers or other school personnel for making a difference in their home, school and community.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s limitations regarding public gatherings, the event was held virtually on Oct. 8. About 50 participants logged into the Zoom meeting where students shared their stories and sponsors and administrators offered their support. Program founder and meeting hostess Karena Zermeno also represented one of the sponsors, Altura Credit Union.

Backpacks filled with gifts, a plaque, certificates of recognition and much more were donated by the program’s sponsors and will be delivered to each recipient. The students were given the opportunity to thank their families and school staff who have supported them and helped them plan their future life goals.

November’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District schools were Michael Adams, Paola Gutierrez, Jack Laurin, Angelina Parisi and Joseph Salazar. San Jacinto Unified students were Anthony Galaviz and Joana Hernandez.

Several of this month’s recipients were acknowledged and applauded for unwavering patience in their interactions with others – at home and at school.

West Valley High School’s Michael Adams was said to have a calming presence who impresses everyone he meets. He is at the top of his class but is very relaxed about it. His participation in Academic Decathlon was just one area where he worked at this highest level to shine.

Paola Gutierrez of Tahquitz High School was chosen because her passion for life and helping others is noticed by many. Nominating teacher Kacy Simpson said Gutierrez is the type of student she wishes she had been at her age. The senior served as her school’s Girl’s State representative and is the current AVID president. Her goal is to attend Stanford University with plans to become a doctor.

Hamilton High’s Jack Lauren was singled out for being punctual and proactive in his approach to his academics that have led to his A-student status. He aspires to be a zoologist because he has always loved animals. He said he had to learn ways to overcome the lack of focus he faced as a result of the ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) he was diagnosed with in middle school.

Angelina Parisi has been a student at the Western Center Academy since sixth grade. Her future goal is to become a forensic psychologist. She said she faced a lot of fears growing up and felt she wasn’t smart enough or good enough but came to realize that everyone has light and dark within them and it’s just a matter of which one we focus on and share with others.

Hemet High teacher Cassidy Steenbock said she was happy to see Joseph Salazar, her student of two years, get the recognition she feels he deserves. He is part of the AG mechanics program at the school but also participates in sports.

While many students are struggling with forced online learning due to the pandemic, Mountain View High School’s Anthony Galaviz is thriving.

“He showed patience, and that it is possible to excel even when it seems impossible,” his science teacher Ron Garrison said.

Galaviz said he always worried about the wrong things as a result of moving around a lot during his childhood and coping with the mental health disorder of PTSD.

“No matter what the worst you can go through, there will be better on the other side,” he said. “No matter what, life will go on.”

Zermeno echoed Galaviz’ sentiments by telling all the students to remember that “change is good and bad is not forever.”

Joana Hernandez was nominated by San Jacinto High School teacher John Norman Jr. who said she has made a huge turnaround in her young life – in general and in her academics. Her plan is to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation and eventually become a special education teacher.

Peter Serbantes, from the RCOE Foundation, was part of the virtual event and said he hopes that all the students recognized by this program come back to be part of the communities in which they were raised.

“We look forward to your future accomplishments,” he told them.

HUSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, Tracy Chambers, thanked the students for being vulnerable while sharing their powerful stories.

“What stood out most to me is that you all have a sense of oneself in the light of uncertainty,” SJUSD Superintendent Dave Pyle told this month’s honorees. “Sometimes the smallest things have the greatest impact – like saying hello to others and checking in with them. I was truly inspired and reminded what we can overcome.”


-Diane A. Rhodes

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