Palm Springs students among those honored at annual ceremony for overcoming adversity
La Chelle Walker, a Katherine Finchy Elementary School student, was one of more than two dozen Palm Springs Unified School District students honored Monday night.

Palm Springs students among those honored at annual ceremony for overcoming adversity

You won’t find them in the headlines for scoring a winning touchdown or a Harvard scholarship — at least not yet — but more than two dozen local students, including seven from Palm Springs schools, were singled out Monday evening for something equally noteworthy: Resilience.

Monday’s honorees at the “Every Student Succeeding Awards,” presented by the local contingent of the Association of California School Administrators, included students like Melannie Bahena Salgado. The Desert Learning Academy 10th grader was so haunted by bullying at a former school that even the thought of in-person classes was a traumatic experience. With the help of the staff at DLA, including counselor Rosalia Mendoza, Melannie now has her sights set on becoming a dentist and hopes to attend one of four universities, including USC or UCLA.

“Melannie experienced massive anxiety when she arrived at DLA,” explained Amber Gascoigne, principal of Cabot Yerxa Elementary and one of two presenters during the event at the Richards Center for the Arts in Palm Springs. “Mom would drop her off and Melannie would not speak. She was very shy and reserved and had difficulty making any friends. She felt people would make fun of her.”

Mendoza saw that Melannie had the intelligence to succeed. She just needed guidance and confidence. She got that at DLA, where she was welcomed into the online Independent Studies Program even when it seemed like she had no choice other than returning to in-person classes.

“Mrs. Mendoza knew that Melannie was smart, but the fear and the trauma of being bullied was always on her mind,” Gascoigne said. And although she initially struggled at the school, “she always had a smile on her face and a positive attitude.”

Melannie now hopes to help other students who may find themselves in a similar situation.

“She is looking forward to participating in leadership course at DLA and wants to help other students that have had anxiety and have been bullied,” Gascoigne said. “(S)he is a role model for us all.”

Melannie’s story wasn’t the only one that inspired the audience of family and friends who attended the ceremony Monday. Others singled out from Palm Springs schools included:

  • Jaden Reyes of Cahuilla Elementary, a fifth-grader who “witnessed a devastating family tragedy, and continues to work hard to thrive despite the challenges he faces.
  • La Chelle Walker of Katherine Finchy Elementary, who organizers said “defines herself by hope, not hardship,” and “has the heart of a poet, the mind of a scholar, and the hands of a helper.”
  • Asa Jones of Vista Del Monte Elementary, who “embodies what it means to be resilient in the face of adversity,” and “has the desire to be successful,” aided by a strong support system at home and school.
  • Melanie Urquiza of Cielo Vista Charter School, “a natural leader” who helped fund recycling bins at the school by applying for a grant through the Eco-Rise program, mentors other students in planting and composting and at one time was fighting for her life.
  • Mary-Jane Valladares of Raymond Cree Middle School, an “exemplary student who knows how to self-advocate” who has overcome numerous hardships, but, “Despite this adversity, she has pushed herself to be the very best she can be.”
  • Erick Martinez Nocelotl of Palm Springs High School, who will become a first-generation college student upon graduation despite stress at home due to health issues his father faced. “While his mom was working and providing, and visiting her husband in the hospital, Erick was taking care of his grandmother and younger siblings,” said Gascoigne. “His dedication to helping his family while achieving academic success is why [he] deserves the Every Student Succeeding Award.”

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