Character, commitment and success inside and outside of the classroom were celebrated inside the PUSD board room Tuesday as five local high school students and five inspirational teachers were presented with the 2019 Merit Awards by Congressman Kevin McCarthy.
PUSD Superintendent Nate Nelson welcomed everyone in attendance and took a moment to recognize the school district’s Board of Trustees before saying it was his honor to introduce McCarthy, who created the Merit Awards for deserving students of outstanding achievement and service to the community. Nelson said McCarthy has been making the trip to Tulare County for the past six years.
McCarthy thanked the superintendent and spoke about becoming a Congressman and the origins of the awards, saying they arose out of a desire to honor the best and brightest students.
McCarthy talked about the character of the students about to be recognized and how much community service they are involved in, but he said he left it to the principals to figure out how much they gave back to their communities.
He spoke about how the students’ parents, grandparents, principals and counselors all had an impact on what they were achieving.
“Because they care, someone inspired you to do something that you did not recognize in yourself,” said McCarthy.
Andy Garcia from Granite Hills High School was the first student to receive the Merit Award.
“Besides being a tremendous student, being involved in sports, and all kinds of clubs at Granite Hills, Andy has natural leadership qualities,” said McCarthy on Garcia. “He has established the Cancer Club at his high school that supports students who have friends and family members who are battling cancer.”
Andy’s father, Santiago, stood with him after he received the award from McCarthy, and McCarthy congratulated both son and father warmly.
“I want to thank everyone for coming out today,” said Andy. “I’d like to thank my parents, my siblings, and my principal. I am going to study biology at UCLA, and I want to become a surgical oncologist. I want to thank Laura Sanford, who opened my eyes to further my education.”
Merit Award winners are asked each year to nominate a teacher at their school who helped and inspired them in the educational journey, and Garcia nominated Sanford, who received the Inspirational High School Educator (IHSE) Award from McCarthy.
Sanford and said about Andy, “From the moment I met him, Andy has had such a drive.”
Next to receive a Merit Award was Matt Brown from Harmony Magnet Academy.
“Matthew Brown is committed to excellence. He has held six internships, and has also done countless hours of community service. And he also founded his own graphic design company,” said McCarthy.
After receiving his award, Brown spoke at length about being involved in the religious community in Porterville and working together with HMA teacher Erik Santos — Brown’s nominee for the IHSE Award — and his aspirations to help others.
“To this day, Mr. Santos is very involved in the Catholic community in Porterville,” said Brown.
Santos had equal praise for Brown, saying, “He is truly a remarkable student, and it’s rewarding to see him (attend) mass at Holy Cross. He is a well-rounded student in the classroom and outside of school.”
Yessenia Ramos Silva received the Merit Award for Porterville High School. McCarthy read a statement saying, “Yessenia is a leader, an advocate and a phenomenal student at Porterville High School. She sets extremely high goals for herself and has served the community for over 600 hours. She is this years’ valedictorian and holds many scholarships.”
Ramos Silva’s interest is in Health Sciences, and she plans to major in Biology and Business Administration. She thanked her parents for their support, as well as school administrators and PHS IHSE Award winner Dr. Pamela Avila, her mentor, saying, “I deeply respect and admire Dr. Avila.”
The next Merit Award winner that McCarthy spoke about was Jadon Guire from Strathmore High School.
“Jadon has a heart of gold, and the smile to match it. Jadon is on the football team and other sports, and has outstanding grades and achievements,” said McCarthy.
Guire thanked his family and administrators at Strathmore, and McCarthy for coming to Porterville. He spoke about his nominee for the IHSE Award Monalta Duffin, saying, “She is a kind-hearted lady. I went through four years at Strathmore High School with her. She is not only an inspiration, but she has become part of my family.”
Duffin said about Jadon, “He has not only used his gifts academically, but he has used it on the field. Our best year ever was last year, 2018. Now every Monday, we talk about football. Thank you for this honor, Jadon.”
Caitlin Land was recognized as this year’s Merit Award winner from Monache High School.
“Caitlin Land strives for excellence in academics and has a passion for helping others, especially with special needs. She is a star both in and out of the water,” McCarthy said, elaborating on her water polo success, academic achievements and service to others.
Afer Land received her award, she said, “I’d like to thank my entire family, they’ve been so supportive my entire life.”
Land wants to study biology and she spoke about her teacher and IHSE Award nominee Seth Ishida, saying it was special “for an educator to take the time to teach you about life, and I’ve learned so much from Mr. Ishida. I have a broader knowledge of history.”
Ishida thanked Land for nominating him, and said, “She is always open to new ideas about art history, and government.”
“The students in our community are some of the brightest in the country,” said McCarthy of the day’s award winners. “I admire their strong work ethic in and out of the classroom. Our local teachers are also worthy of praise — they’re helping to inspire the next generation of leaders through transformative teaching methods and an undeniable devotion to their craft. I am honored to present the 2019 Merit and Inspirational High School Educator awards to these hardworking students and the instructors who have had such a positive influence in their lives. Congratulations – these accolades are well-deserved.”