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Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians tribal member Rachelle Peterson wanted to find a unique way to celebrate the milestone accomplishments of fellow tribal members, including her sister and cousin, in the wake of an unusual end to this school year.

“I thought we should honor our students within our community because they didn’t get to have a (traditional) graduation ceremony this year,” she said. “I called my cousin Mike Castello suggesting a parade and he went to Tribal Council and got it approved. This is the first time we’ve ever done this, but I think it should be done every year from now on.”

Peterson’s cousin Mariah Morreo graduated from Hemet High School and is headed to the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico and her younger sister Raven Peterson graduated from Cal State, San Marcos with a double major in American Indian Studies and Political Science and is researching law schools to attend.

Families were invited to decorate their vehicles and participate in the Student Recognition Parade that travelled about three miles through the Soboba Reservation on Castile Canyon Road and Soboba Road, ending at the old casino parking lot. On June 26, about 30 vehicles staged at The Oaks to finalize decorations that recognized their family’s graduate or multiple graduates in some cases.

Decorated vehicles lined up at The Oaks on June 26 in preparation of a parade to celebrate all tribal members graduating from various grades and schools this year.

Tribal members being promoted from kindergarten to first grade, fifth grade to middle school, eighth grade to high school and graduates from high school and college were all invited to share their achievements by celebrating in a way that observed social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic but allowed family and friends to applaud their accomplishments.

Prior to the evening’s parade, kindergartners from the Soboba Tribal Preschool spent all day Thursday being recognized individually for their successful completion of the school year. Each student’s family signed up for a 15-minute block of time when they could come with their young child and have them receive special awards and a huge plastic sand bucket and a “snuggle bag” filled with projects from throughout the year and games and treats to keep them busy during the summer.

The day’s theme was crayons and colorful balloons greeted the graduates as they took to the stage and received their certificates and time to shine as family members applauded and took photographs.

Teacher’s aide Antonia Venegas spearheaded a frybread and tacos fundraiser to help with the cost of the celebration. The tribe supported the event in a big way, and the school collected more than enough money to purchase decorations, lawn signs and goodies for all the students.

Kindergartner Kihuut-Tuukut Adame shows his parents the medal he was awarded for his perfect attendance.

Kindergarten teacher Cindy Lee said the hardest part of utilizing distance learning for the last few months of the school year was making sure the students’ reading skills were advancing.

“We spend the first part of the year on the alphabet and sounds but March is when we start teaching them how to decode words,” Lee said. “It was challenging because we couldn’t hear them read.”

In addition to using Class Dojo each morning, Lee made hour-long YouTube videos to go through their lesson packets step by step. She also created do-it-yourself physical science projects using common household products since that subject is covered in the classroom near the school year’s end. Homework packets that families picked up at the school contained assignments that the children did in the afternoon to reinforce that morning’s lesson.

While each student was singled out for an attribute or special quality that contributed to the class, Kihuut-Tuukut Adame was also given the school’s first-ever award for perfect attendance.

College graduate Raven Peterson, left and high school graduate Mariah Morreo, are cousins who participated in a Student Recognition Parade for Soboba tribal members on June 26.

Preschool Director Dianne King thanked each family for their support and dedication to keeping their students engaged and connected during the time they had to spend at home rather than in the classroom. She said the coronavirus pandemic challenged the school, families and the community but it also taught the students about compassion firsthand.

Those who advanced to first grade are Kihuut-Tuukut Adame, Julian Briones, Nola Briones, Muukumikat Gonzalez, Sukmal Herrera, Rihanna Kashersky, Kyle Kolb, Alize Lara, Alena Lugo, Maylee Masiel, Marilyn Mendoza, Jayden Miranda, Kainoa Nunez, Takoda Nunez, Mac Pineda, Jake Ramirez, Zyanya Reyes, Yawaywish Russell, Alylah Salgado, Tulóvat Témanxwanvish, Kali Valenzuela, Atreyu Valenzuella, Tuupangawish Valenzuella, Ash-wut Vega and Kuláawut Vega.

Many of the kindergartners joined in the parade and were waving to all the familiar faces that tailgated along the parade route to cheer all the graduates for their achievements. Led by Soboba Fire Engine T1 with its lights flashing, siren blaring and horn honking, the enthusiasm of the crowd was seen and heard as the vehicles made their way along the parade route.

Tulóvat Teman receives her promotion certificate and awards as kindergarten teacher Cindy Lee looks on during the Soboba Tribal Preschool’s personalized graduation ceremonies on June 25.

Tribal members who earned high school diplomas included: Gilbert Almanza, Ayallkawut Arivso, Monique Arres, Michael Barsz, Jasmine Basquez, Raven Basquez, Wanbli Basquez, Chanupa Boniface, Jarred Briones, Arianna Carmelo, Roxy Castello, Devin Devore, Juanmanuel Garcia, Angel Gonzalez, Faith Guzman-Soza, Joe Hernandez, Geovani Herrera, Loovi Herrera, Jolina Jordan, Yawaywish Laupsa-Briones, Bailee Lindsey, Daniel Lugo, Larry Lugo, Raymond Masiel, Gavin Merchant, Erika Modesto, Lawrence Modesto III, Shaun Molina, Ariana Moreno, Mickey Morillo, Mariah Morreo, Nicholas Munoz, Daniel Ortega, Sheila Pimentel, Nathaniel Placencia, Kenny Ramirez, Shylynne Razon, Ariana Resvaloso, Fabian Reynoso, Blaze Romp, Phoenix Rubio, Thomas Salgado, Shayna Silvas-Thomas, Adam Smestad, Isaac Soza, Avelaka Soza, John Valdez, Tanisha Valdez, Alejandro Vallejo, Josiah Vargas, William Arres and Gabriel Walker Smith.

Higher education graduates include: Shade Briones, Jason Cozart, Jenna Gilmore, Sasha Hurtado, Catherine Modesto, Richard Moreno-Mahan, Raven Peterson, Petey Rhodes, Cynthia Salgado-Flores and Autumn Vivanco.

-Mike Hiles

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