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Navigating the Path to Graduation

Navigating the Path to Graduation
Posted on 06/07/2017

Last week, I wrote about several of the different graduation celebrations in Leander ISD — from our youngest learners graduating into kindergarten through Parents as Teacher, to our alternative students committed to finding a path through life's difficulties to graduate on time, to a handful of seniors who joined one of the most exclusive clubs in America by earning a perfect score on their college entrance exam. This week, I would like to delve a little deeper into the stories of just a few of our seniors who earned their diplomas last week and how they navigated their paths to graduation.

In LISD, we have six high schools and two alternative schools, six of which had graduating classes this year. I wish we had the time and space to profile each member of our class of 2017. It has been such an inspiration to me getting to talk with some of these seniors about all they have accomplished during their short time in LISD, about their post-secondary goals and the adventures they have charted to achieve those goals.

From Cedar Park High School, twin sisters Amanda and Alexx Montanez emigrated from Puerto Rico as 8-year-olds, working hard to acclimate and learn a new language without falling behind in their schooling. Just as they became comfortable in their new lives, everything was upended by their mother's breast cancer diagnosis. Supporting her through treatment in middle school helped prepare Amanda and Alexx to become the compassionate, dedicated, hard-working young women they have been throughout high school. Both have maintained high GPAs through a rigorous course load of AP classes while also serving as captains of the varsity cheer squad and competing as top-level track and field athletes. Amanda and Alexx will remain together as they go on to study and cheer at the University of Texas at Austin.

From Leander High School, Keilany Solano will be pursuing biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University this fall with a different motivation than most students. Keilany hopes to become a medical researcher to help find a cure for diseases like multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with during her junior year. She described herself as a decent student for the first half of high school, but after her diagnosis, she became much more serious about her studies. She entered the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program, made great strides in improving her GPA and increased her dedication to community service. In fact, this year, Keilany committed herself to fundraising and creating awareness on behalf of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) — making and selling T-shirts; distributing orange ribbons; and collecting more than $400 in donations for NMSS from Leander students!

From New Hope High School, Alexis DelVesco is a textbook fighter and one whose future I am watching with anticipation. At the beginning of her junior year, Alexis lost her sister, a UCLA student at the time. Struggling to cope with the tragic loss, she began to fall behind at school and by the end of the year found herself placed at the Leander Extended Opportunity (LEO) Center, our disciplinary alternative school. Alexis used this time to re-evaluate, to transfer to New Hope, which provides a small school environment with supportive teachers and a self-paced curriculum, and to refocus her priorities. She went from being at-risk of not graduating on time at the beginning of her senior year, to graduating a few months early. The intimate environment at New Hope inspired Alexis to attend Naropa University, a small school in Boulder, Colorado, with Buddhist roots, to study psychology and eventually help at-risk youth.

From Rouse High School, Tiffani Burnett is a product of the QUEST (Quality Utilization and Enrichment of Student Talents) program, which is designed to meet the needs of students who have demonstrated above-average ability in intellectual ability and creative thinking. Tiffani came into high school shy and easily intimidated, happy to coast through unchallenged. Until her sophomore year, when she met QUEST teacher Marguerite Swilling. Tiffani credits Ms. Swilling with recognizing her potential, challenging her to take AP courses and pushing her academically. This led to Tiffani being named a National Merit Semifinalist and being awarded several scholarships, which has allowed her to attend Texas A&M University Honors to study physics.

From Vandegrift High School, Elijah Kabigting, another STAR Banquet honoree and AP Scholar, earned a full scholarship to attend the University of North Texas (UNT) to study psychology. He overcame more obstacles in his short high school career than many face for decades into adulthood. Last year, Elijah's father passed away, followed by his mother's passing in December. He struggled to process his grief, to stay focused on school and to find meaning in it all. Despite this devastating loss, as one of his teachers describes, Elijah managed to inspire so many around him with his strength, resiliency and bravery. He was able to stay on track to attend UNT, where I have no doubt he will continue to flourish and motivate those around him.

From Vista Ridge High School, Elena Martin has battled the pain of Crohn's disease since elementary school, which became so severe by her freshman year that she could hardly walk. She missed a lot of school, enduring several surgeries and the emotional roller coaster of improving and relapsing health. Through it all, she was vigilant about staying in constant contact with her teachers, completing assignments and coming in for extra help whenever she could. Weathering her struggles with grace beyond her years, Elena because a source of inspiration for all the teachers, counselors and staff with whom she came in contact. In the fall, Elena will be attending Trinity University, thanks to the support of her medical team in San Antonio.

Please join me in celebrating these inspirational students and the rest of the class of 2017 on all their many accomplishments on the path to graduation. Thank you to our recent graduates for your contributions in making LISD the outstanding district it is and for providing such a strong example for the students who will follow after you. Best wishes on your bright futures!