Students graduating this year have had more than half of their high school experience impacted by the pandemic. In addition to the regular pressures of adolescence, they’ve experienced the stresses associated with school closures and quarantines, and the debates over masking and vaccinations. They’ve also missed out on all types of activities, from dances to sporting events to school plays.
I want to acknowledge the amazing work of our teachers, administrators and school staff who have helped guide students through these turbulent times. I also want to express my gratitude to the parents, relatives and community members who have so admirably supported our students and schools these past few years.
The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health that schools are working hard to address. But it has also shown us how incredibly strong and resilient students can be. Many have not only survived the pandemic and their own personal challenges but are thriving as they journey into life after high school. In our annual year-end edition of Focus on Education, I am honored to share of few of the inspiring stories from members of the Ventura County Class of 2022.
Dr. César Morales
Ventura County Superintendent of Schools
Maggie Melendez - Simi Valley High School
Maggie Melendez’s road to high school graduation hasn’t been an easy one. The daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, she started school without knowing a word of English. And at her young age, she’s struggled with health issues, including celiac disease and an ovarian tumor that had to be surgically removed.
Hans Bach-Nguyen - Adolfo Camarillo High School
He hasn’t even graduated from Adolfo Camarillo High School yet, but Hans Bach-Nguyen has built an enviable resume that spans five pages. In addition to stellar grades and test scores, it lists an impressive array of activities and achievements.
Alex Loza - Foothill Technology High School
When schools were closed due to the pandemic, Alex Loza decided to make good use of the extra time he had on his hands. He got a job delivering meals to the elderly and remembers how some of the recipients were so grateful they were brought to tears.
Nikita Manyak - Oak Park High School
With all the pressure to make friends, get good grades and get into college, high school is often a stressful experience. Throw in a worldwide pandemic that’s lasted for years, and it’s no surprise that students are feeling it. “Especially with COVID, everybody has been so much more stressed,” says Nikita Manyak, who recently graduated from Oak Park High School.
Carolina Martinez - Santa Paula High School
Carolina Martinez will be the first person in her family to attend a four-year university – and not just any university. She was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley, which is consistently ranked one of the nation’s best. “I started screaming, and my family thought something was wrong,” she recalls of the moment she got the good news.
Kendall Brown - Thousand Oaks High School
Kendall Brown learned about loss at a young age when his father was infected by a life-threatening flesh-eating bacteria. The doctors said the only hope for survival was amputation. But his dad, who had re-learned to walk after surviving a plane crash when he was in the military, couldn’t bear to give up his legs.
Nate Padilla - Phoenix School
Nate Padilla had a difficult family life as a boy. After his mom and dad split up, he bounced between his parents’ distant homes and by the time he got to middle school, he was angry. “It was always easier to be angry than any other emotion,” he says.