Determined and not afraid of challenges. The ability to overcome adversity and find a way. These traits of strong individuals were repeatedly referenced Feb. 2 at the Fallbrook Community Center when Max Alperstein, Alexxus Garcia and Jacob Oatman of Fallbrook Union High School and Brianna Duarte of Oasis High School were saluted as the Students of the Month for February.
Greg Coppock emceed the recognition breakfast hosted by Fallbrook Student of the Month, a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring outstanding students in the Fallbrook Union High School District. Officials such as Dr. Hugo Pedroza, superintendent of the district, and principals Larry Boone of Fallbrook High School and John Hayek of Oasis and Ivy High Schools were in attendance to pay tribute to the students.
Duarte, who was nominated by Oasis teacher Heidi Fouret, was the first student to be recognized.
“She has always been small in stature and a young lady of very few words, but she is someone that has grown to be a young woman of great commitment, great strength and great passion,” said Fouret of Duarte. “As a person, Brianna is extremely kind hearted and humble. She is mature beyond her years, she is focused and decisive with a very strong core belief and value system.”
“As a student, Brianna is intrinsically motivated with an amazing work ethic,” continued Fouret. “She holds herself to a high standard. She always turns in impeccable, high-quality work. She never shies away from taking a challenge, always taking the most difficult course work. Because of these high qualities in her academics, she is a 100 percent lifetime member of CSF (California Scholarship Federation).”
Fouret also noted Duarte’s remarkable streak of volunteer work. “She has volunteered at Fallbrook Animal Sanctuary every Sunday for the past five years,” Fouret informed the audience.
Duarte thanked the committee “for creating this opportunity,” Fouret “for helping me to work toward my goals and always pushing me to try my hardest,” and her family “for being there for me and always motivating me to do my best” before speaking of her future goals.
“I plan to work towards opening my own veterinary practice,” said Duarte. “I’ve applied to Cal State San Marcos and San Diego State University and plan to major in biology and eventually study veterinary science at UC Davis.”
Victor Torres, band director at Fallbrook High School, nominated Alperstein, who joined the band as an eighth grader while still attending Potter Junior High.
“Max’s five years with me have been consistent steady growth,” said Torres. “This year he was selected as my head drum major. In selecting Max, I could see the growth in his leadership. I’d see him sitting and talking with somebody and saying, ‘you can do this, you can do that, why would you let that stop you.’ Motivation, excellence, drive, commitment, dedication – you put all those words together and that wraps up Max.”
Alperstein said being part of the Fallbrook High School Marching Warriors changed his life.
“Band gave me a reason to strive for something that was tangible and to learn to work as a team,” said Alperstein. “This sense of accomplishment, from starting each year with a blank slate and finishing with a championship performance, was on par with nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Having the opportunity to be drum major this past year, and take responsibilities and a leadership role to a new level, will remain with me forever.”
Alperstein, who has maintained a 4.0 GPA while playing in band and competing in tennis, plans to attend a university in California and pursue a degree in marine biology. Alperstein said he will “work toward my dream job of being an ecological researcher.”
Garcia was nominated by Stephanie Osowski, assistant principal at Fallbrook High School.
“As a special education teacher for 10 years, I’ve had the fortune to work with amazing students who have really unique challenges,” said Osowski. “They are an important part of the Fallbrook High School community and Alexxus is one of those amazing kids that doesn’t see any boundaries, any barriers.
“You can see her any day just bouncing around campus,” continued Osowski. “Alexxus started ASB this year and is an integral part of the group, and the kids just adore her. She is just remarkable and will always have a special place in my heart, not only as a teacher and principal, but personally.”
Garcia thanked Osowski and her special education teacher, Carla Crane, and acknowledged family members in attendance before informing the crowd of one of her daily responsibilities at Fallbrook High School.
“I do the Pledge of Allegiance every day in front of the whole, whole, whole school,” said Garcia, who also disclosed her future plans. “My next step after high school is college and work. I want to be a teacher.”
Garcia, who plans to attend Cal State San Marcos, was lauded for her Pledge of Allegiance by college and career counselor Tony Morrow.
“You have to be on our campus in the morning to hear it,” said Morrow. “If you’re not ready to go before she starts, you’re ready to go after that, so I want to thank her for getting everyone’s day started like that.”
Garcia’s grandmother, Stephanie McLaughlin, informed the audience that Garcia’s mother, Tawny, who is a T2 paraplegic, couldn’t attend the breakfast but thanked everyone for “how wonderful this occasion is for her daughter.”
McLaughlin then relayed some information about Garcia.
“She started out with a very difficult birth and had reduced oxygen intake which lead to some slowing of the process of the mind,” said McLaughlin of Garcia. “I haven’t seen it slower her down at all. The joy that she brings to everyone is absolutely magnificent.”
Morrow and Pam Cain nominated Oatman, a hard-nosed basketball player who also excels in the classroom. Morrow explained how Oatman handled a tragedy – the sudden loss of his father last year – is something he’ll never forget.
“Watching him go through that – and there are a lot of other people in the room that can attest to how loss affects people – and talking to him through what he had to endure, it taught me a lesson,” said Morrow. “Just observing him, how he carried himself, and how he has dealt with things. He has attacked any and everything that has come his way head on. He has decided he knows the man that he wants to be for his mom and for his sister.
“I could run down a list of things Jacob has done – his stats, his academics – but the thing that impresses me most about Jacob, it’s who he is,” continued Morrow. “Just plain and simple, who he is.”
Morrow then turned to Oatman and said, “I just want to say thank you for who you are,” and then gave him a hug.
Cain said Oatman is active in ASB and is “very witty and has a great sense of humor. He is very passionate about what he gets involved with and wants to make a difference in Fallbrook being a better place.”
Fallbrook High basketball coach John Kroeger was also in attendance and choose to quote opposing coaches in describing the intense play of Oatman, an undersized point guard who has played three years on varsity and wears jersey No. 1. According to Kroeger, he’s been asked: “What’s wrong with No. 1 – why does he play so hard? What do you feed No. 1?”
“Every time, it’s the theme of that kid plays harder than everybody else,” said Kroeger, who went on commend Oatman for his leadership skills, his work ethic and commitment to development. “I know he’ll succeed in college, I know he’ll succeed in his career. I hate losing him at the end of this season, but love my time being able to coach him.”
Oatman thanked Morrow and Cain for nominating him, and for often providing a sweet start to his day. “They always seems to brighten my morning, and that’s just not the donuts talking,” said Oatman.
Oatman also thanked the Student of the Month committee and his family.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without two very important people,” said Oatman. “I thank my little sister Emma for being the light of my life and making me smile every single day, and my mother Jane for being the most loving and caring best friend I could ever ask for.”
Oatman said he plans to attend college in California and aspires to be a nurse practitioner.