With 28 moves and 19 different schools, stability has been an elusive part of Clovis North junior Grace Felder’s life.
The 17-year-old came from an abusive household, which culminated in her father being arrested last year, said Felder, who is one of 16 students being honored for persevering over hardship.
“For me it’s like, I can either let things happen to me and destroy my life or I can make it better,” Felder said.
At an awards gala on March 16 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building, 16 Clovis Unified juniors were honored. Each student honored is eligible to receive a $1,500 scholarship for college or technical school.
“These are students who have been through some hardship or issue in life,” said Mike Fennacy, chairman for the Foundation of Clovis Schools. “This is really to say, ‘someone recognizes you, you’re valuable and you’re important.’
“And it encourages them to take that pledge to go on to college in the next year.” Fennacy said. This is the 10th year Clovis Unified has held the Students of Promise event.
Going to Clovis North and having supportive teachers has helped Felder heal from the past, she said. After her education, Felder hopes to help children in the social services system.
“We’ve found that at Clovis Unified there’s a lot of exceptional students that succeed academically, that succeed athletically,” Fennacy said. “These students are exceeding and doing wonderful things but no one is really noticing because they’re going through real personal issues at home.
“Maybe they’re going home and having to take care all of the children, who are their brothers and sisters, because mom is working two jobs and dad’s in jail; maybe there’s health issues but they are prevailing,” Fennacy said.
Teachers and other district staff are the ones responsible to nominating students to the program, which are then evaluated by the board members of the Foundation for Clovis Schools.
“Various teachers at all the high school sites and maybe their counselors — they are the ones with their eyes and ears on the campuses,” Fennacy said. “They know this program exists and they have their eyes on students who are doing exceptional things.”
Buchanan High junior and 2016 Student of Promise J.D. Davis was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative muscle disease, but doesn’t let that stop him from living his life the way he wants.
“I don’t really think of it as something to overcome,” Davis said. “What I try to do is stay happy.” He hopes to study English or psychology in college.
Fennacy said he believes the scholarships send an important message that the district values the students and their futures.
In addition to the scholarship money, the moral encouragement offered to the students plays a big role as well, Fennacy said.
“Sometimes when you’re down and you’re trying to do the right thing, having someone beside you and say ‘you know what, I’ve been watching you and you’ve been doing a wonderful job’ — that sense of encouragement that this program really instills in them builds their confidence,” Fennacy said.
“They are doing whatever it takes to basically pursue and get a good education,” Fennacy said. “They know education is important and they’re not going to allow hardship in life to overcome them.”
The 2016 Students of Promise honored are:
- Robert J. Belmontes Jr. — Clovis North
- Carlene Christensen — Clovis North
- Corryn Brechmann — Clovis West
- J.D. Davis — Buchanan
- Sherrie DeBarr — Clovis East
- McKay Duran — Clovis North
- Isack Espana — Clovis West
- Grace Felder — Clovis North
- Anna Lolinco — Clovis East
- Lauren Martin — Buchanan
- Dhruv Mistry — Clovis North
- Jesse Ray — Gateway
- Keon Sanaie — Clovis North
- Hevenn Vanhelsdingen — Clovis North
- Hannah Vizcarra — Buchanan
- Jennifer Yue — Clovis East