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San Jacinto Valley students honored in October

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Recipients of the Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Month award for October are, from left, Joshua Ramirez, Olivia Lopez, Ubaldo Puente, Daniel Mendoza, Isabella Rivera, Melissa Jimenez and Brooke Benford. Photo courtesy of StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

Diane A. Rhodes | Contributed

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 Oct. 26. 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. Backpacks filled with gifts, a Student of the Month award, 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 full of supporters that included principals, teachers, peers and family members, as well as community and school district dignitaries.

October’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District schools are Brooke Benford, Olivia Lopez, Daniel Mendoza, Ubaldo Puente and Isabella Rivera. San Jacinto Unified’s honorees for October are Melissa Jimenez and Joshua Ramirez.

Hemet Unified School District

Brooke Benford

West Valley High School selected Brooke to be recognized this month for being an outstanding leader who exhibits a positive energy on campus. She is a spirit commissioner for student assemblies alongside her brother, a member of the dance and cheer teams and a leading actress for the theater department. She is also an International Baccalaureate student whose favorite subject is English. Her teacher Shereen Johnson said she was always willing and able to assist in the classroom and she appreciated Brooke’s commitment to excellence. Brooke said, “When you look at me from the outside I seem like a very happy kid and my extracurricular activities and my social skills make me seem like a bright light that shines on everything within my radius.” She then shared that she has suffered from clinical depression and anxiety since the age of 12 and was suicidal when she was in eighth grade. After embracing professional help from a counselor therapist, Brooke was able to become more productive in high school. She plans to be a forensic psychologist to “lend a listening ear to those who need it and a helping hand to those who are reaching out.” After thanking all the sponsors of the Student of the Month event and congratulating her peers on being recognized this month, she addressed the staff at West Valley and said, “Teachers and coaches can change lives and you guys have definitely changed mine for the better.”

Olivia Lopez

Hamilton High School Principal Kari Sanchez proudly introduced Olivia, a student she has known since toddlerhood growing up in the community. Her nominating teacher, Mary Kleinvachter, said the active senior stays busy with Advanced Placement and CTE classes, athletics, leadership positions with many clubs and community service. She was also recognized by the College Board’s National Hispanic Recognition Program for her strong academic performance and high assessment scores. “I enjoy volunteering with From the Heart,” Olivia said. “I love seeing the positive impact this organization has on our small town.” She plans to major in civil engineering or something else within the STEM field. As a standout on her school’s CIF wrestling team, a shoulder injury during her sophomore year that sidelined her was devastating. Olivia said she started to feel selfish that she worried so much about this when there were people dealing with much more difficult problems. She felt she should be grateful for all the good things and opportunities she had. Something she learned during this time that she will take to college is, “God gave me this day and I can either use it for good or waste it. This quote speaks to me by reminding me that God gave us each day as a gift and it’s up to us to make the most of it,” Olivia said.

Daniel Mendoza

Hemet High School’s top choice this month is Daniel, who at the end of his senior year will be a three-sport, four-year athlete. Principal Jeff Franks said he maintains a 3.6 GPA through dedication and hard work. His nominating teacher, BJ Edwards, said Daniel leads by example and is positive for the culture of the campus. “He has integrity as a student and athlete,” he said, adding that his “favorite thing about Danny isn’t just his academics or the effort he puts into school every day but that he is a good human.” Daniel said his father is his number one fan who pushes him every day to be the best version of himself. He has played sports since the age of four. “I try to bring all the school spirit I can; I always try to bring people together and keep a positive attitude,” he said. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that nothing in life is handed to you, you have to go get it yourself.” Daniel hopes to play football at the college level while studying kinesiology in pursuit of a career as a physical education teacher. “After seeing a lot of the teachers and staff that work at our school, I’ve decided I do want to be a teacher,” he said.

Ubaldo Puente

Tahquitz High School recognized Ubaldo in October for his uncanny ability to make connections with adults and other students. He was nominated by multiple teachers who had many good things to say about him such as being a true Titan who is creative and spirited, someone who takes initiative, is a natural born leader and always lends a helping hand. Ubaldo, also known as Junior, is ASB treasurer, emcees student assemblies, serves as the baseball team’s manager and is school site council president. He admitted to having conquered a “multitude of obstacles” in recent years and shared a favorite quote: “No matter how far you get in life, never forget the passion that got you there.” Ubaldo’s dream school is the University of Utah where he hopes to study for a career as an accountant or actuary. His future plans also include opening a community food pantry.

Isabella Rivera

Alessandro High School singled out Isabella for her level of maturity and positivity. Her nominating teacher, Lee Clark, said Isabella is a well-spoken and altruistic young woman who seldom let the trauma of her life overwhelm her as she moved to several states as a pre-teen, caring for her younger sister in every way possible. Isabella said when her parents finally got clean from their addictions, things improved but she still carries scars from the past experiences that resulted from her having to grow up way too young. Losing an older cousin to suicide was the catalyst that made her so resilient and pushed her to move forward. “A significant life lesson I will take with me is that everything is changing; nothing is permanent. Success is limitless and it begins with your imagination,” she said. Isabella plans to be a criminal justice major in college with aspirations to become an attorney.

San Jacinto Unified School District

Melissa Jimenez

Mountain View High School’s Melissa was nominated by counselor Justin Ryan who said she stands out for a lot of reasons. She is very self-aware but not self-centered, he said, adding that whenever there is an opportunity to serve, Melissa is always the first person to sign up. Melissa is a voting member of the school site council. “Being at Mountain View for a year and a few months has truly helped me in many ways, from daily challenges that will prepare me for adult life to basic daily responsibilities,” she said. After ending a 10-month long abusive relationship that had caused her to become depressed, Melissa said the situation taught her some valuable lessons and she has moved on from the emotional toll it took on her. She is on track to graduate in January and plans to attend High Desert Medical College’s two-year program to become an OB/GYN ultrasound technician.

Joshua Ramirez

San Jacinto High School chose to honor Joshua for being a genuinely good-hearted person. His former teacher Jesse Spriggs said Joshua’s service to the community impacts many. Two years ago, he was instrumental in organizing the student-led Tiger Den benevolence closet on campus, a place where students who have minimal amenities and necessities like clothing, shoes and hygiene products can go and privately get what they need. It has been visited by more than 60 SJHS students. Under his leadership, the district’s two middle schools have developed their own benevolence closets. Spriggs said he is moved by a Native American proverb that sums up Joshua, “Blessed is he who plants trees under whose shade he will never sit.” Joshua’s teacher Niki Gray said his thoughtfulness for others always warms her heart and that a C.S. Lewis quote reminds her of Joshua, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Joshua said becoming manager of the Tiger Den was a great opportunity for him to give back to his community. “My parents provided the best even when circumstances weren’t always in our favor,” he said. “My older siblings shared with me the hardships they faced in the past.” Joshua said that even though he feels like in a way he has already impacted his community, he is not done yet. “I feel like this is just the beginning,” he said. “My end goal is to create a community where everyone is thriving, and everyone feels empowered.”

Closing remarks

Karena Zermeno said it was obvious that all of the students represented at the breakfast have so much love for others. San Jacinto Unified School District Superintendent David Pyle said the theme he heard emerge among the seniors being honored was the concept of change. “It’s very fitting that the weather is changing outside,” he said. “While a lot of things change, there are a lot of things that don’t change and those are empathy, character and selflessness, which today’s students represented.”

For more information, www.studentofthemonth.net.

Find your latest news here at the Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle

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