San Jacinto Valley students honored in January


Diane A. Rhodes | Contirbuted

The Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Month program held its most recent recognition breakfast at the Maze Stone at Soboba Springs Golf Course on Jan. 18. Seven local high school seniors were recognized and honored for their character, love of learning and commitment to academics in addition to their involvement in school and community activities and their ability to overcome difficult life circumstances. And they do this all in a setting that honors God, country, family, community and free enterprise. Students are nominated by teachers or other school personnel for making a difference in their homes, schools and communities.

Local program founder and event facilitator Karena Zermeno also represents one of the sponsors, Altura Credit Union. She noted that the all-volunteer Student of the Month committee ensures all proceeds from the program go toward scholarships given at the end of the school year. Backpacks filled with gifts, a Student of the Month award, certificates of recognition and much more were donated by community sponsors to the award recipients. One of the gifts is a journal provided by Camino Real Family Services. Representative Pete Serbantes told the students the journal is “to note where you’re at so when you get where you’re going, you’ll know where you’ve been.”

Each student was invited to the podium to share their personal story, past challenges and future goals with a room full of supporters that included principals, teachers, peers and family members, as well as community and school district dignitaries.

January’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District are Leilani Guerrero Frias, Samantha Lopez, Aniya Perez, Ashlynn Rozzo and Joniah Walker. San Jacinto Unified’s honorees for January are Elyana Arambula and Leslye Osuna.

Hemet Unified School District

Leilani Guerrero Frias

Tahquitz High School recognized Leilani for her willingness to always help others through her creativity and imagination. Her nominating teacher Kaci Simpson said Leilani represents the school’s PRIDE acronym of passion, respect, integrity, dedication and excellence. “But I saw her passion ignite when she became a member of the mentor/mentee program,” she said. Leilani is interested in journalism and photography. She composed a poem for her acceptance speech which began, “Not long ago I received a significant opportunity, in the very heart of this community, learning about daily municipal affairs, alongside our city’s leaders among council chairs. I was truly fortunate to be, under the care of those who care for our city.” She went on to say that through that experience she was able to share her passion for art via photography. “May my greatest contribution be to be an aide to all, hoping to honor my family devoted to stewardship’s call, under their care I strive to stand tall,” her poem continued. “Grounded in responsibilities and the importance of it made clear, the future is in our sight it may seem so far yet it is so near. I hope to give back through volunteer work advocating for a positive change, I hope to challenge negative thoughts to make this world a better place.”

Samantha Lopez

West Valley High School Principal Gerardo Zavala said Samantha was chosen to be highlighted for making the school a better place for staff and students. “She finds the positive in negative situations and is extremely optimistic,” he said. She is involved with sports, creative arts and works part-time on weekends. Her teacher Martha Gonzalez said she had the honor of nominating Samantha as Student of the Month for being the epitome of responsibility and hard work. She is an IB Diploma student and has been in the top 10 of her class for the past three years. She told Samantha, “Remember to always shine bright like a diamond and never let anyone dull your shine.” The outstanding senior thanked everyone for noticing her efforts around campus. “My greatest contribution to my family is the way I tend to be hard working and independent,” Samantha said. Since the age of 10 she has taken an interest in her father’s line of work, which is construction, and would like to follow in his footsteps. To that end she plans to attend UC, Riverside as a business major and one day run her own flooring company with her father by her side. “My dad always played a big influential role in my life and has always told me to treat others like you want to be treated so I plan to share my kindness with others,” Samantha said. “My mom always said school first, boys later.” She closed her speech with a quote, “The world is not only happening to you, but you are happening to the rest of the world; don’t forget to enjoy the ride.”

Aniya Perez

Academy of Innovation Principal John Bradshaw said Aniya excelled at independent study which provides students with two days of instruction with a teacher and three days on their own to take ownership to do research and their work. “It puts a lot of responsibility on them and helps them mature as students,” he said. Teacher Linda Olsen has taught at the academy for more than 20 years and said that during the time students are working on their own they are developing their own skills to be self-disciplined and organized. “I really believe it does prepare them for the next step,” she said. Aniya believes her greatest contribution has been her ability to make a positive impact in her school and community by working collaboratively with other students and teachers to achieve common goals and volunteering for community service opportunities. She plans to major in psychology and business at college. “One of the biggest obstacles I was faced with was moving to a new school district during my sophomore year,” Aniya said. “It was difficult for me to adjust to a new environment, and I struggled mentally because of it.” She said enrolling at the hybrid academy enabled her to overcome this challenge. Aniya said, “The most significant life lesson I will take with me to college is to always remain open to new experiences and challenges as they can help me grow and learn.”

Ashlynn Rozzo

Hamilton High School singled out Ashlynn for being a leader on campus who has contributed much to the school as ASB president, where she advocates for the student body while helping with fundraisers and student activities. “My biggest contribution to my school is being the senior class president,” Ashlynn said. “I have applied to and been accepted to SDSU, Cal Poly Pomona, CSU Long Beach and CSU Santa Barbara. I have not decided which school I want to attend yet. As for my future career, I want to be a nurse.” She shared that her father was really ill this past year and had to stay in the hospital for a couple of weeks. “My mom and I both stayed with him and took care of him but most of the time it was just him and me,” Ashlynn said. “Once he got to come home, our lives changed completely; we had to make a new normal.” A couple months later, Ashlynn was hospitalized with a burst appendix which derailed her entire senior year as she was unable to do any sports, which have always been a very big part of her life. “Now I’m not able to participate in wrestling my senior year but I am still there for my team as a captain,” Ashlynn said. “My biggest life lesson that I’m going to take to college with me is time management and learning to be financially responsible.” She gives back to her community with after-school tutoring and volunteering with From the Heart Christian Women’s Group in Anza.

Joniah Walker

Hemet High School’s top choice this month is Joniah and principal Jeff Franks shared words from Social Studies and AP Computer Science teacher James Walsh, who nominated Joniah but was unable to attend the event. Walsh said the young man has an unmistakable passion for video games and a passion that has grown more evident over time. “This year, seeing him join my AP Computer Science class was truly a delight,” Walsh commented. “Despite facing challenges in his math knowledge due to circumstances, Joniah stands out as one of the top programmers in our class. His mind is a natural fit for this subject, showcasing his remarkable ability to navigate through complexities and excel in the realm of coding. In the face of adversity, Joniah’s resilience and dedication to his craft are truly commendable. He not only overcame challenges but excels, leaving an indelible mark on our class. Joniah, your enthusiasm, skill and infectious positivity inspire us all.” Joniah said, “I’m happy he has noticed my love for video games. I really enjoy helping everyone in the class whenever I can. I have really enjoyed my time in the class and my time at Hemet High.”

San Jacinto Unified School District

Elyana Arambula

Mountain View High School’s honoree for January is Elyana, who is considered a great friend to others. Nominating teacher Tia Gaither said, “Elyana does her best job at all times. She came to our school in 11th grade and was going through a grieving process. She had some tough times and yet she has survived.” Elyana said, “One of the main things I have learned while being at Mountain View is how to manage my life skills and how to manage my time in the real world. It also taught me how it’s very important to always stay on task, not just in school but also out of school.” She said that when she started her freshman year at San Jacinto High School, she chose to hang around the wrong people, which affected her education a lot. When COVID hit, she lost her grandfather and great-grandfather and she found it difficult to transition to online learning. “I started my sophomore year in person, but I was so depressed from losing so many family members in a short period of time,” Elyana said. During her junior year she lost her aunt who was her best friend and biggest motivator. “Overall, school was very hard for me with no one to push me to do better,” she said. “I got closer to God and that gave me motivation to finish school.” She plans to attend Coastline Beauty College for cosmetology and eventually own her own studio and give back to her community. “If I had to leave a word of advice for future graduates, it’s to simply put your problems in God’s hands and strive for accuracy from the beginning and don’t ever give up, always push yourself to do your best.” Her mother said that a lot of things have been happening within the family for the past four years, but that Elyana had finished all her credits the day before and is done with school now.

Leslye Osuna

San Jacinto High School chose to honor Leslye as their Student of the Month. Principal Kristi Coulter said, “What makes our valley so unique is that we are a unique network of support for our future generations and I’m going to say that that network was part of this young lady’s destiny. She really is a poster child for bravery. She has a vision for her life that has driven her to excellence.” Nominating teacher Clara Sanchez said Leslye has accomplished so much in a short period of time. Leslye said, “My story is full of ups and downs.” She was born in LA but her family moved back to Mexico when she was three. She returned to California at 15 by herself to attend school and work. “I am motivated to work hard on my education because my parents support my efforts even though they are over 1,000 miles away,” she said. Leslye aspires to become a registered nurse after earning her BSN. “I have a passion for helping people,” she said. When she was young and her mother had some health problems, there was no one there to help her and even though she was just a little girl, Leslye did what she could. “One of the biggest challenges I have faced is being apart from my family and although I miss my family dearly, the lesson I’ve learned is to never give up until you meet all your goals. I also believe that when something bad happens, it’s because God has something better planned for you,” she said.

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