San Jacinto Valley students honored in November


Seven local high school seniors were honored 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 homes, schools and communities.

Program founder and event hostess Karena Zermeno also represented one of the sponsors, Altura Credit Union. Backpacks filled with gifts, a Student of the Month plaque, certificates of recognition and much more were donated by the program’s sponsors to the award recipients. Each student was invited to the podium to share their personal story, past challenges and future goals with a room filled with supporters that included principals, teachers, peers, family members and community and school district dignitaries.

November’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District schools are Alexis Chanelo, Zachary Cholodenko Vollan, Christopher Huerta, Kamaree Lewis and Nahum Pina. San Jacinto Unified honorees are Sam Chaney and Sameer Farag.

Tahquitz High School’s Alexis Chanelo was recognized for his resiliency, managing to maintain straight-A grades while caring for his sick mother who passed away in September. “Moving to Hemet and going to Tahquitz has had a huge positive impact in my life; giving me opportunities for a better future,” he said. Alexis’ entrepreneurial spirit is leading him to possibly start his own business. He feels his greatest contribution is being there for others because “mental health is the most challenging obstacle to face.”

Zachary Cholodenko Vollan from Hamilton High School is captain of the Bobcats CIF football team and is also on the wrestling team. He was nominated for his thoughtfulness, perseverance and determination. While many students did less during the COVID-19 related lockdowns, Zachary’s teacher said he chose to do more by taking online classes at Mt. San Jacinto College alongside his regular high school coursework. He is on the cusp of becoming a Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout and has been accepted at two colleges where he plans to play football. His goal is to pursue a law degree and become a prosecuting lawyer to “make our community a better, safer place.” Zachary’s sister was killed by a drunk driver and this helped shaped his career path as he wants to see justice done for others. “I think the biggest lesson I learned is mental discipline which I’ve achieved through sports; it will put me in a better position to succeed in life,” he said.

The Western Center Academy’s Christopher Huerta said his greatest contribution to his community, school and family is his positive outlook on life. While in middle school, his mom fell into a deep depressive state which caused her to turn to drugs and alcohol to ease her inner pain. After a serious car accident left her in a coma, Christopher visited her in the hospital’s ICU and was too young to comprehend what was going on. After many years, she was able to be transferred to a local hospital so he can visit her every day. “For my future, I want to go into neurology to help patients with similar conditions like my mother,” he said. “The most significant lesson I will take to college is that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”

West Valley recognized Kamaree Lewis for having a lot of love in his heart and his willingness to share it with others as a strong role model. His economics teacher said he is the “pride of West Valley High.” Kamaree said he feels his greatest contribution is providing emotional support to others, listening and talking in a positive way. He wants to work in the psychology field as a behavior therapist. He said moving from Chicago to Hemet when he started high school took a huge toll on his own mental health, pushing him to almost end his life. “Your mindset is the strongest tool you have; it can either take it to your lowest lows or your highest highs,” he said.

Nahum Pina was Hemet High’s choice for November. His math teacher nominated him for his hard work, being the only one of her students to receive a 5 on the AP Calculus test. He is ranked No. 1 in the school’s class of more than 500 seniors. Being a first-generation American citizen, he didn’t speak English when he began school. He immersed himself in many activities to get involved; he joined band, ASB and other clubs that were presented to him. He has volunteered at his church as a youth group leader and at Valley Community Pantry. “I see a lot of people in need and I’m glad I’m able to help,” Nahum said. He has been accepted to Cal Baptist University, majoring in computer science or software engineering and pursuing a career in computer programming or cybersecurity.

Sam Chaney from Mountain View High School was singled out for this month’s honor and principal Ken Swanson said, “She’s a kid who makes me feel good about myself; accepting people the way they are.” She was new to the school and the Valley this year and got involved with things right away, including becoming an ASB officer. She helped at a schoolwide blood drive, being the volunteer who held the hands of other anxious students. Her nominating teacher said academically, she is focused and determined, completing so many credits she was able to graduate early. In her prepared speech, Sam wrote, “Even though my past has made me have a hard time remembering things and communicating how I feel, I can work through it and push through the hard times and my trauma. Throughout my life I’ve had a lot of struggles. I sunk deep into depression and survived suicide. Now I’m working to believe I’m not a screw-up.” She plans to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse and then work to become a pediatric RN.

San Jacinto High School selected Sameer Farag for being such a reliable force on campus. He has applied to Stanford where he wants to pursue psychology as a career. His counselor, Angela McClaron, said Sameer “has impacted each one of us in some way, not just with his academics but with his spirit, with his wisdom and with his gentleness.” Sameer recalled attending the San Jacinto Leadership Academy where he reminded fellow students to be kind to one another. “At this point, I didn’t know that psychology even existed. I just spoke to them out of my heart and a bunch of people started calling me a therapist in middle school” and the students thanked him for helping them through their struggles.

Zermeno asked all the students to stand and be applauded for the great influence they have on motivating the community. “Students like you make such a difference,” she said. “Keep being that difference.”

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