San Jacinto Valley students honored in September


The Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Month program held its first recognition event of the new school year with a few changes. 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 community.

The most notable and appreciated difference from this time last year was that the event was held in person and not via computer screens as has been the case for more than a year. Another change for the nearly 90 attendees was The Maze Stone at Soboba Springs Golf Course venue, which provided a wonderful breakfast buffet.

Program founder and meeting facilitator Karena Zermeno also represented one of the sponsors, Altura Credit Union, at the Sept. 23 event. Backpacks filled with gifts, a plaque, certificates of recognition and much more were donated by the program’s sponsors to each award recipient. 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.

Before leading an opening prayer, San Jacinto Assembly of God Pastor Jeff Johnson said, “Being online is great but there is something powerful about being together in person.”

Kicking off the program’s ninth year, September’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District schools are Cecilia Aguila, Micaiah Cox, Melany Hernandez, Hailey Houser, and Saige Zinck. San Jacinto Unified students are Ivonne Juarez and Kyron Penn.

Hamilton High School’s Cecilia Aguila is a National Honor Society member and was nominated by her Economics teacher who said the senior is a good example of how the educational system works in giving hope to students and parents who know their child can have a brighter future. Cecilia was brought to America when she was eight months old. Growing up without learning English, she was at a disadvantage when she started attending school. She overcame this obstacle and plans to attend Cal Poly Pomona and become a veterinarian. She credits her high school years as teaching her the leadership and bravery skills she needs to succeed. “I have had to be brave enough to show who I truly am and since then I have felt better with who I truly am,” Cecilia said. Micaiah Cox from The Academy of Innovation was nominated by his Spanish teacher who said learning a foreign language online is especially difficult, but Micaiah is taking his third year and doing great despite having more than half of his classes be virtual. She said he shows character and integrity above and beyond that of a typical teenager. “School does not really come easy for me, not because I can’t do the work but because it is hard for me to focus and be motivated to do the work,” Micaiah said. “But all of my teachers have really helped me out and they support me in everything I want to do after graduation; they let me be my own person.” He said his personal goal is not to go to college but encourages others who feel that is the path for them. He plans to further his education by volunteering to work at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, called Bethel, where they produce Bibles and Bible-based literature including videos in more than 1,000 languages. “Being a volunteer may not be what people say they want to be when they grow up but for me, if COVID and these last few months have reinforced anything, it’s that life is more important than making money and achieving fame. Life for me is about being with my family and serving my God to the best of my ability. Thank you again for the privilege of being here.”

Hemet High School recognized Melany Hernandez this month, who has an impressive academic resume that includes a 4.3 GPA according to Principal Kimberly Romeril. She hopes to attend University of California, San Diego where she will major in biochemistry. Although born in California, she said she has struggled with her Mexican American heritage because those in Mexico tried to disassociate her from her culture. She said she has had to endure doubts about her educational career from both Americans and Mexicans, either because she was a “brown woman trying to study science” or because she is a “white girl from a low-income household.” She addressed her fellow honorees by saying, “I know the dreams that we will accomplish. All of you are a huge inspiration for me and this gives me the final push for my senior year.”

West Valley’s Hailey Houser was not able attend the event but her principal, Shannyn Cahoon, said she had been nominated by multiple teachers for being an amazing student. She maintains a 4.0 GPA and is involved with sports outside of the campus. “She is a leader in class discussions, which is not easy to do after being out of the classroom for almost two years,” Cahoon said, adding that when told she was named as student of the month, Hailey said, “I really don’t need to be honored, I do it because I want to do it.”

Saige Zinck was Tahquitz High School’s choice this month. Principal Kari McGowan said Saige has overcome tremendous adversity “yet she has proven to be not only a survivor, but an overcomer.” Saige lost her father in 2016 and her mother shortly after that but the talented senior became the school’s youngest yearbook editor in her sophomore year and continues to shine in that role. She hopes to attend Stanford after graduation. Saige has been raised and supported by her grandmother, Clydene, who told her, “With every A+ you’ve worked so hard to attain, with every certificate you’ve earned and all your many accomplishments I say I couldn’t be prouder of you and each time you prove me wrong. You have not had an easy life, yet you don’t use that as an excuse to not try your hardest at everything you do at school, at work and at home. You don’t let your past stop you. You show compassion and are always there, ready to help a fellow classmate if they need it. You have been known to say, ‘I want to make my daddy proud’ and I can guarantee you that you most certainly have and that you will continue to do so.”

Ivonne Juarez from San Jacinto High serves as her school’s ASB senior class secretary and also sits on the School Site Council. She was singled out for being an “amazing role model on campus.” A member of the school’s band, she also maintains a 4.0 GPA. “Last year I feel was the most challenging, academically and mentally,” she said. “I was struggling to find motivation to finish my schoolwork.” She said she pushed herself to take an MSJC course and continued to take more after receiving As. After submitting a contract to graduate this fall, Ivonne plans to attend MSJC for two years and then transfer to Cal State, San Marcos to major in criminology. Her career goals include becoming a detective or forensic scientist. Her sister spoke on behalf of the family thanking everyone in attendance for taking the time to be there and said, “I think we can all agree that supporting each other as a community is what keeps us going.”

Mountain View High School’s Kyron Penn has said he’d like to own his own trucking company someday so he can hire men and women who need jobs. For now, he is passionate about attending college and playing football for his chosen school. Kyron thanked his counselor and teachers for supporting him to push harder for his goals and for “keeping me in a positive mindset at all times.” His mother and grandmother served as strong role models as Kyron saw firsthand how they embraced higher education. “I did not complete my coursework to graduate alone. I would also like to thank my mom for providing her educational expertise, my grandma and my brother for their love and support, financially, emotionally and throughout my personal journey.”

Zermeno thanked the students for sharing their stories and told them, “Wherever you end up, you are going to shine like the stars you are.”

Riverside County Office of Education Community Outreach Ambassador Pete Serbantes spoke at the close of the event telling students to thank their parents and grandparents for being on their side. “Then thank the teachers, the educators, the administration for being on your side,” he said. “You are special, that’s why you are here. Be who you are, do what you do and continue to realize there are no limits. … Visualize who you are going to be because the past is the past and that’s on purpose.”

Zermeno also thanked all the school board members who volunteer their time and then introduced the superintendents from both school districts to offer final comments.

HUSD’s Christi Barrett said she agreed with a comment made earlier by Hemet High’s James Walsh that “education is the great equalizer.” She also said one of the speakers had mentioned hope and said, “Hope is a powerful thing, and I would suggest that without it there isn’t much else. So, thank you for reminding us what we each can bring into this world and the hope that we provide to one another.”

SJUSD’s Dave Pyle told the honored students that being chosen as the first Student of the Month for the new school year is extra special because it means they made a great first impression. “I often say you learn as much outside of the classroom as you do in the classroom and for the last year and a half, being outside of the classroom, to be able to enter into a school system and have the accomplishments that you already have is impressive,” Pyle said. “Finally, I’d just like to say this is also one of my favorite mornings of the month; it’s a time that our valley comes together as one.”


Diane A. Rhodes | Contributor

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