Top Scholar and event keynote speaker, Mario Joya, shares how family-like experience at continuation school built his confidence and led to success
RIVERSIDE – Forty students from 26 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 2019—a reality that some believed was impossible.
The 2019 Riverside County Top Scholars will be recognized at an awards dinner on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, at 5 p.m. at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center. The event will feature student performances, speeches, and stories that signify the turnaround stories that epitomize successful alternative and continuation students.
Top Scholar Mario Joya describes his life as a young boy as the “regular life anyone could imagine.” In contrast, he describes his time as a student at Alvord Alternative Continuation High school as unlike any other school.
“The people made it feel like home. It really feels like family because you can go to anybody and ask for help and that brings everybody together,” Mario said.
Mario earned good grades through elementary school despite the challenge of learning English. When he reached the 5th grade, Mario’s parents separated, and, as one of the older siblings in the family, was thrust into a caretaker role.
Mario’s focus on school suffered during middle school, and he struggled to find his way heading into his freshman year at Norte Vista High School. His bumpy academic road led him to Alvord Alternative Continuation High School, and he welcomed the change of scenery.
“I was alone, and depressed, and wasn’t sure where I was going in life,” Mario said. “I started failing classes and ditching,” Mario said. “I knew I had to change something to grow my confidence or my plans to graduate wouldn’t happen,” Mario said.
During his time at Alvord Alternative Continuation High School, Mario has served as the student representative to the school board. He provides updates about the school and reports on activities to keep the public and the board of trustees informed. Mario reached out to his English teacher, Stephen Enriquez, for tips on public speaking, and he was happy to help.
“I let Mario know that public speaking is important in whatever field he plans on for his future,” Mr. Enriquez said. “And, that if he were speaking to one person or a large audience, he has to believe in himself and then people will believe in him.”
Mr. Enriquez shared that being nervous is normal, and that he still gets the jitters and butterflies every time he speaks to a fresh batch of students.
“The first time I did it, my heart was racing. But, once I started speaking, it felt natural and just came out,” Mario said.
As he developed his role as a leader on his high school campus, Mario maintained his role as a leader within his family. Mario’s mother works long hours to support the family, and he calls it a “lucky morning” when he is able to connect with her before helping his siblings prepare for another school day.
Along with his siblings, grandmother, and mother, the family of seven share one bedroom, one bathroom, and find a way to make it work every day.
“Privacy can be the toughest part, so I oftentimes work on my chores first, and then do my homework outside later in the evening” Mario shared. “Other than that, I like living here and I have everything I need to be successful.”
As a 10-year old, Mario tagged along with his father to work at local construction sites. Ever since, he’s had designs on becoming an architect and dreams of opening his own architect business. In the fall, he will attend Riverside City College and hopes to transfer to UCLA where his older sister is currently enrolled.
“Before, I would run away from my problems and wouldn’t confront them,” Mario said. “Now, I feel confident going into college—especially since I know how to talk to people and ask for help.”
The help Mario has received has led him to the doorstep of graduation. His extremely proud mother, grandmother, and siblings will all be in attendance to see him honored at the Riverside County Top Scholars
Recognition where he will also give one of the keynote addresses.
“I feel very excited since I’ve never received an award like this before,” Mario said.
Although Mr. Enriquez helped develop Mario’s speaking skills ahead of each board presentation, he noted that Mario’s Top Scholars speech was crafted all on his own and that Mario’s eloquent, heartfelt message needed only minimal fine tuning.
Mario’s goal for his speech is to let people know that when he decided to change his life, it was because he wanted to be the best he could be.
“No matter if people put me down, I’ll be the best I can be. I want people to know they can do the same thing even if others try to put them down.”
2019 Riverside County Top Scholars
Jacqueline Apolinio, Alvord Alternative Continuation High School, Alvord USD
Mario Joya, Alvord Alternative Continuation High School, Alvord USD
Yasmin Osuna, New Horizon High School, Banning USD
Megan Kirkland, Glen View High School, Beaumont USD
Yulissa Hernandez, La Familia High School, Coachella Valley USD
Adam Robertson, La Familia High School, Coachella Valley USD
Lesley Hernandez, Lee V. Pollard High School, Corona-Norco USD
Tristan Ortega, Lee V. Pollard High School, Corona-Norco USD
Jairius Falconer, Orange Grove High School, Corona-Norco USD
Concepcion Jardon, Orange Grove High School, Corona-Norco USD
Jazmin Cardona, Amistad High School, Desert Sands USD
Rori Romero, Amistad High School, Desert Sands USD
Deandrenea Carter, Alessandro High School, Hemet USD
Jaelen Cooper, Alessandro High School, Hemet USD
Gabriel Ramirez, Aspire Community Day School, Hemet USD
Gerardo Bravo-Carmona, Nueva Vista High School, Jurupa USD
Nautica Rios, Nueva Vista High School, Jurupa USD
Daisy Galindo-Crespo, Ortega High School, Lake Elsinore USD
Nayeli Farias, Ortega High School, Lake Elsinore USD
Jovanni Negrete, Bayside Community Day School, Moreno Valley USD
Claudia Sarabia-Harper, March Mountain High School, Moreno Valley USD
Greta Painter, Murrieta Canyon Academy, Murrieta Valley USD
Elizabeth Martinez, Mt. San Jacinto High School, Palm Springs USD
Bailey Huffman, Twin Palms High School, Palo Verde USD
Aurora Dye, Perris Lake High School, Perris Union HSD
Lorena Olmos, Lincoln High School, Riverside USD
Briceira Santacruz-Palacios, Lincoln High School, Riverside USD
Nathan Chilson, Raincross High School, Riverside USD
Lesley Ramirez, Raincross High School, Riverside USD
Myleen Ramirez, Mountain View High School, San Jacinto USD
Jacob Torres, Mountain View High School, San Jacinto USD
Matthew Jimenez, Val Verde High School, Val Verde USD
Jose Perez, Val Verde High School, Val Verde USD
Emily Olivares, Arlington Regional Learning Center, Riverside County Office of Education
Emilie Morgan, Cal-SAFE Hemet, Riverside County Office of Education
Jacqueline Cervantes, Come Back Kids Charter, Riverside County Office of Education
Emily Sosa, Come Back Kids Charter, Riverside County Office of Education
Cruz Gomez, David L. Long Regional Learning Center, Riverside County Office of Education
Jonathan Aronson, Gateway to College and Career Academy, Riverside County Office of Education
Melanie Vega, Gateway to College and Career Academy, Riverside County Office of Education
(photos available upon request following the event)