Special to the Village News
A drive for success, supportive family, faith, leadership and being competitive were cited about the four seniors recognized as Students of the Month in the Fallbrook Union High School District at a breakfast honoring the selections on Jan. 5 at the Fallbrook campus of North Coast Church.
Each of the recipients received a Lamp of Knowledge medal, yard sign with their name, a "goodie bag" with gifts and scholarship information, and time on the stage for their family and teachers to acknowledge their accomplishments. The students also spoke, sharing their stories and announcing their plans.
Teachers at the district schools made the nominations and members of a nonprofit organization selected the students.
District Superintendent Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez spoke in the beginning and principals Mike Gray of Oasis High School and Lauren Jones of Fallbrook High School had comments during the introductions.
January award winners were Connor Allen of Oasis High School, and Elenie Espitia, Erica Garcia and Ryan Skaja of Fallbrook High School.
Allen was nominated by Oasis teacher Kevin Kent and Thomas Smith of the district's ROTC program. Kent noted that since Allen transferred to the independent study school during the second semester of his freshman year; the student has a perfect 4.0 GPA.
"There is no doubt he will be successful in life," Smith said.
Allen's mother, Julie, said the move to Oasis was "the best thing that could happen for him," saying her son missed classes at FHS due to illness and wasn't able to catch up. Oasis allowed him to work at his own pace, she said.
"I also have no doubt he'll reach his dreams and goals," she added.
Allen's father Daniel Allen and grandparents Sharon and Doug Allen were also on the stage, with the grandmother saying how proud she was "to have a warrior on my side."
Conner said the ROTC was a big part of his leadership development. He said he has made contacts with the local Sheriff's Department, fire department, and other agencies but that his dream job is to be an officer with the California Highway Patrol.
He encouraged other students to contact potential career options because it's helpful to "get a leg in there to open doors."
Allen said he plans to attend Palomar College and its police academy.
Espitia was nominated by teacher Alana Milton, who said this year's AP psychology class was her first experience with the student.
"She turns in beautiful work," Milton said. "She always goes above and beyond the assignment. I'm also impressed at her being one of the first to help others."
Margarita Espitia, the student's mother, shared about her daughter, translated by Garza-Gonzalez: "Every day at school she wants to excel. If she has an A-minus, she strives to get it to an A-plus. Sometimes it's late at night and we encourage her to take a break to go to bed, but she always finishes her homework. She fills me with joy."
The proud mom also told the story of Elenie always wanting to be the number one student, in elementary and middle school. Ironically, the student who continually challenged her in that honor was another student (Skaja) also being recognized at the breakfast.
Elenie's father, Israel, also shared about his daughter being "very diligent since when she was a little girl" and striving for success.
Garcia was nominated by Debbie Berg, a teacher and coach of the FHS field hockey and lacrosse teams. She said Garcia was the fastest person on the teams, a "fierce competitor" and a leader.
"I would call her feisty," Berg said, sharing about the change from seeing the student argue with the referees as a freshman to now, when as captain, she told teammates to "calm down" when emotions were heated.
Garcia is committed to her work schedule on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the coach said, but is able to work in the commitment to her sports, while maintaining a 4.27 GPA. She is also a volunteer coach on the middle school team. Garcia was first team all-league in field hockey this year.
Garza-Gonzalez translated for Erica's mother, Maria Garcia. "She's had a lot of challenges in life but has always reached her goals," she said. "She loves her sports and always tells me, 'Mom, I want to play.'"
"When she works, she always comes home and isn't in the streets," the mother added.
With her on the stage were her father, Jose Garcia, and grandparents, Christiana and Michael Gonzalez. The grandmother complimented coach Berg on her ability to know when to push the athletes and when to hold them back.
"I don't know why I am so motivated," the student said. "I always pushed for A grades and thrived in the dual emersion program."
Garcia said she has applied to many universities but hasn't yet decided where she will attend. Her goal is something in the medical field – likely as a surgeon.
"I've always liked Gray's Anatomy and decided that's what I want to do," she said. She also said that being team captain helped her mature. "I've grown as a person and leader."
Skaja was also nominated by Milton, who said he took difficult classes while maintaining a 4.0-plus GPA.
"He always asks the best questions in class," she noted, adding that he took all the school's engineering and robotic classes in three years.
Skaja's parents were out of town, but grandparents Terry and Colleen Magee shared about their grandson.
"As a grandparent, you love his focus on academics," his grandfather said. "Ryan is just a great student and human being."
The student said he wants to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and a couple schools he is considering are Boise State and Baylor – but it's too early to decide.
"Hopefully I'll go on to do something to benefit the world," Skaja added.
Indeed, these are four students who are on the right track to make a difference.