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 limitations for public gatherings, the event was held virtually on March 11. About 60 participants logged onto the Zoom meeting where students shared their stories and sponsors and administrators offered their support.

Program founder and meeting facilitator 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. March’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District schools were Yenifer Aparicio Galindo, Byron Gonzalez, Charlotte Halliday, Devon Martin and Christopher Williams.

San Jacinto Unified students were Destiny McKenna and Yailene Perez. In his opening prayer, San Jacinto Assembly of God Pastor Jeff Johnson reminded everyone that a year ago students were put on a new path they had to learn to navigate in a new way. This was the last monthly meeting of the school year and a Student of the Year celebration to announce scholarship winners from all those previously honored is being planned. West Valley’s Yenifer Aparicio Galindo was nominated by her Spanish teacher, Antonio Ramos. She aspires to be a pediatric nurse. Principal Shannyn Cahoon said in talking to all the senior students, she has noted a sense of maturity and growth and Yenifer is no exception. “I’m proud of all of our students and how they have adapted to everything,” she said. Byron Gonzalez is a standout student at Western Center Academy and was nominated by his Academic Decathlon Coach Rex McDonald.

He said Byron received overall high marks as the team’s leader and has a 4.8 GPA with 10 college courses and 11 AP courses to his credit. “He has been able to create a culture of inclusion and of kindness and has the ability to work through adversity and find those people that are in need and to be a person of support to them,” Executive Director and Principal Paul Bailey said. “It’s pretty incredible to see some of the things that he’s been able to do and the impact that he’s had in building lasting memories for everyone at our school site.” Byron said money has always been an issue for his family and when the pandemic hit, he took a part-time job at Little Caesars to “step up and help out” because the bills don’t go away just because there is a crisis.

Byron has already received many college acceptance letters and plans to major in biology or chemistry and work in the science and health care fields. Charlotte Halliday of Hamilton High School came to America from Scotland and was able to find a place for herself through band and soccer at school. She wants to become a school therapist after earning her psychology degree. “While moving onto this next chapter of my life, the idea that one day I will be able to help kids just I have been helped throughout the years keeps me going,” she said. “As a child, I often felt I didn’t fit in and I was very confused by the culture.

After coming to Hamilton, I was blessed to be surrounded by teachers who understood that mental health (issues) were to be considered more than teenage angst and that the problems I and many other students are dealing with matter.” Hemet High School senior Devon Martin was honored for being such a strong self-advocate. After high school he will be attending RCC and is interested in video game design and development. When students were able to be on campus in person, Devon was the student leader of the gamer’s club and cooking club.

Hemet High’s Susan Lawler said Devon shared that he had been in a car accident that led to his uncle passing away which piloted him to make changes in his life. “He shared with me that he’s learned how important it is to stay in contact with his family and friends,” Lawler said. “Devon also has a learning disability and works harder to advocate for his needs, the needs of others and understanding of material. He plans to pay it forward by helping others through difficult times.” Christopher Williams was Tahquitz High’s choice for March. He has excelled in his school’s Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, earning the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant and plans to enlist in the U.S. Marines.

After the death of his mom when he was 11 and moving to Hemet when he started high school, he was grateful to find leadership, love and caring among the military-based program. “I use everything in my life as a motivation and I’ve learned to expect the unexpected,” he said. Mountain View honored Destiny McKenna, who has already completed her graduation requirements. Her math teacher, Karin Lee, said Destiny serves as a great example to her peers about what it means to be a scholar. With plans to enter the field of psychology, Destiny hopes to one day host workshops for young people and continue to better herself.

Yailene Perez was singled out for being an inspirational student and leader at San Jacinto High School, always pushing others to do better. Teaching and mentoring children at her church has led her to pursue a career as a child and adolescent psychiatrist. She has witnessed mental health issues within her own family and among her friends and wants to help others in any way she can. “I want to help struggling kids find the right way on their path and be a mentor and friend to them as well,” Yailene said.

“I’ve seen where childhood pain still affects them, and I want them to have a healthy future.” Peter Daniels, Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships for Riverside County Office of Education, told the students that although their stories reflected their unique challenges and each possesses their own special and amazing gifts they shared similar qualities such as fearlessness, overcoming obstacles and finding opportunities, resilience, working hard, achievements, responsibility and determination. Those qualities spell the word forward.

“Keep moving forward, pay it forward and we look forward to learning about your future successes,” Daniels said. Information,

Diane A. Rhodes

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