RIVERSIDE – Deportation, family tragedy, criminal convictions, medical limitations, and consequences from hanging out with the wrong crowd are just a few of the barriers that the 2018 Riverside County Top Scholars have overcome to redirect the trajectory of their future. A total of 39 students from 28 alternative and continuation schools in Riverside County have seized their second chance at education and excelled in order to earn the title of Top Scholar and graduate as part of the Class of 2018—a reality that many previously believed was impossible.
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The 2018 Riverside County Top Scholars will be recognized at a dinner on Monday, April 9, 2018, at 5 p.m. at the Riverside Convention Center. The event will feature student performances, speeches, and stories that signify the turnaround stories that epitomize successful alternative and continuation students.
From their Top Scholars application, here are some of the comments submitted by students:
“For the first time since third grade, I was earning honor roll. I was earning straight A’s and teachers were actually asking me to help other students in class.” – Trinity Aguirre, Ortega High School, Lake Elsinore USD
“I felt there was no point in attending school and saw no future for myself. The minute I stepped on this campus, it was a whole different story. This place felt like home and schoolwork started to become an easy task for me because I enjoyed learning for the first time.” – Robert Ventura Sanchez, Abraham Lincoln High School, Riverside USD
“Through encouraging staff and a welcoming, warm learning environment, not only did Rancho Vista help me find the road to graduation, but the school helped me find myself during a time where I was confused and unsure about the future.” – Nikolai Harber, Rancho Vista High School, Temecula Valley USD
“I want to be the first person in my family to graduate high school and go to college. I have the mindset that I didn’t want to stay home and do nothing. I want to become someone.” – Jennifer Pineda, Alvord Continuation High School, Alvord USD
“This was a second chance to get my act together and I was not going to mess it up. I went from being a straight F student to an A student and was motivated to graduate because of the amazing staff. I’m forever grateful for the opportunities they gave me.” – Wendy Alvarez, Perris Lake High School, Perris Union High School District
Yolanda Yanez was born in the year 2000 in what she describes as “a little gas stop town known as Blythe.” Her parents dropped out of school in the 8th and 9th grade, and, as the youngest of seven kids, she will be the first to earn a high school diploma in her family when she graduates from Twin Palms Continuation High School in Palo Verde Unified School District on June 7, 2018.
“Learning how to read was the best thing that happened to me,” Yolanda shared in her application. “I read so much that I remember having color Band-Aids on my fingers from the paper cuts of reading all the time.”
By the time she reached the sixth grade, chronic absences were leading her down a pathway to becoming another dropout. By the time she reached high school, Yolanda was only attending school a few times a month and dropping out seemed imminent.
“People around me at home were saying ‘It’s okay to give up,’ but that irritates me now as I recall screaming ‘I can’t!’ on multiple occasions, but how did I know if I never tried?”
Palo Verde attendance clerk Juanita Grady and her husband, Bob Grady (retired police chief of Blythe Police Department) intervened after a home visit, and offered to help Yolanda with personal issues, as well as with school.
“Mr. Grady used to tell me that nobody has the right to live in my head rent-free,” Yolanda recalled. “People will come and go, but my life stops for nobody. The support system I wanted had to come from me and I refused to let my love for learning come second anymore.”
In January of 2016, Yolanda enrolled in Twin Palms Continuation High School in Blythe that serves credit deficient students, pregnant minors, and other students with unique needs. The smaller class sizes and higher level of teacher involvement are aimed at facilitating student success and making a high school diploma a reality for every student.
“I gained supporters as soon as I stopped looking for them—ranging from my bus driver to the teachers and volunteers at Twin Palms,” Yolanda said. “School and learning have made me the happiest I’ve ever been. I’ve not yet received the same feeling from anything else besides books and achieving what was once thought impossible of me.”
Yolanda has been named to the Principal’s Honor Roll for each of the last three quarters and was named the student of the month twice in 2017. She serves as a student ambassador and gives motivational and anti-bullying speeches to elementary school students.
After graduation, she plans to attend Palo Verde College and earn a degree in biology. Her goal is to obtain a nursing degree in radiology and return to Blythe. Her desire is to volunteer with other students—especially women—to show how a winning mindset can accomplish the impossible.
“Remaining resilient has definitely been my secret weapon,” Yolanda said. “I desire to stain, not fade from the world. I want to learn until I can’t learn anymore.”
2018 Riverside County Top Scholars
Jennifer Pineda, Alvord Continuation High School, Alvord USD
Jacob Rico, Glen View High School, Beaumont USD
Sabrina Sanchez, Glen View High School, Beaumont USD
Juan A. Moreno, La Familia High School, Coachella Valley USD
Griselda Hilario, Lee V. Pollard High School, Corona-Norco USD
Desirae Cardenas, Lee V. Pollard High School, Corona-Norco USD
Salvador Heredia, Orange Grove High School, Corona-Norco USD
Alfredo Cervantes, Amistad High School, Desert Sands USD
Veanka Guzman, Amistad High School, Desert Sands USD
Taya Tennell, Alessandro High School, Hemet USD
Alondra Fuentes Sandoval, Alessandro High School, Hemet USD
Realti Greenwood, Aspire Community Day School, Hemet USD
Javell Funches, Jr., Aspire Community Day School, Hemet USD
Freddy Bernal, Nueva Vista High School, Jurupa USD
Christian McCall, Nueva Vista High School, Jurupa USD
Abraham Campos, STEPS Community Day School, Jurupa USD
Trinity Aguirre, Ortega High School, Lake Elsinore USD
Kizzie Cortez, Bayside Community Day School, Moreno Valley USD
Mitzi Vazquez, March Mountain High School, Moreno Valley USD
Sopha Pitts, Murrieta Canyon Academy, Murrieta Valley USD
Maria Mota-Sota, Mt. San Jacinto High School, Palm Springs USD
Stephanie Lopez-Durado, Mt. San Jacinto High School, Palm Springs USD
Yolanda Yanez, Twin Palms High School, Palo Verde USD
Wendy Alvarez, Perris Lake High School, Perris Union High School District
Kristina Castillo, Raincross Education Options Center, Riverside USD
Clarissa Camarena-Cortez, Raincross Education Options Center, Riverside USD
Anyssa Navarro, Lincoln High School, Riverside USD
Robert Ventura Sanchez, Lincoln High School, Riverside USD
Alicia Avalos-Payan, Mountain View High School, San Jacinto USD
Jaime Oceguera, Mountain View High School, San Jacinto USD
Nikolai Harber, Rancho Vista High School, Temecula Valley USD
Sonia Arellano, Val Verde High School, Val Verde USD
Maria del Rosario Cruz Lopez, Val Verde High School, Val Verde USD
Hunter Griffiths, Come Back Kids Charter at Arlington Regional Learning Center, Riverside County Office of Education
Erika Inzunza, Come Back Kids Charter – Corona, Riverside County Office of Education
Alexander Gonzalez Castillo, Come Back Kids Charter at Education Options Center, Riverside
Kaila Elisarraras, Riverside County Education Academy, Riverside County Office of Education
Sarah “Ariel” Saldana, Riverside County Charter High School Gateway to College and Career Academy, Riverside County Office of Education
Luis Xala, Riverside County Charter High School Gateway to College and Career Academy, Riverside County Office of Education