The celebratory Student of the Month breakfast was held at North Coast Church for the first time Nov. 2, and the honorees for the month of November – Kaipo Cavanh, Jessica Denny and Sydney Porter of Fallbrook Union High School and Brian Cifuentes of Ivy High School – made the first group of students to be saluted at the impressive new venue a special one
Officials and faculty from both schools, as well as an impressive number of Marines from Camp Pendleton, joined family, friends and members of the community in recognizing Cavanh, Denny, Porter and Cifuentes for their inspiring achievements.
The first student to be honored was Cavanh, who was nominated for the award by teachers Alana Milton and Colette Hill.
“If you’ve ever met Kaipo or talked to him, the first thing you notice right away is his smile and his enthusiasm,” said Milton, noting that Cavanh’s “huge personality” helped him be elected the school’s pep commissioner. “He’s dedicated to making Fallbrook High better, more spirited and more friendly.
“He works all the time to include more students on campus,” continued Milton. “He tries to get more students into activities and tries really hard to get our school to have an inclusive culture. He’s done that by joining clubs he may not have joined otherwise.”
Hill called Cavanh her “right-hand man” and echoed Milton’s comments about his caring nature.
“He’s got so many virtues and done so many things,” said Hill. “He makes Fallbrook a better place, and Fallbrook High School a better place. He’s one of the top students I’ve ever taught.”
Cavanh, as did all the recipients, thanked his teachers, his family, the Student of the Month committee and the community leaders in the audience.
“Both of these teachers not only care about their students’ lives academically, but they truly care about our personal lives out of school,” said Cavanh. “Without these two amazing teachers, I wouldn’t be at the place I am today in our school.”
Cavanh thanked his father, a 30-year Marine currently stationed in the Middle East, and his mother, who was in attendance, for allowing him to stay in Fallbrook so he could graduate with the class of 2018. He added that he plans to attend Palomar College and then a university, where he will study visual communications and graphic design in pursuit of his goal of being a creative director in the field of marketing and advertising.
Teachers Larry Koch and John Kroeger nominated Denny, a student Koch said was involved in countless endeavors that help others.
“The top of her resume says ‘Jessica Denny, Dedicated Student,’” said Koch. “I was thinking, ‘dedicated student?’ Actually, she’s a servant. She never says no.”
Koch noted that Denny is involved in the Safe School Ambassadors program, the student senate, ASB, is leader of Freedom House, and is the student school board representative. He added that Denny’s volunteer activities outside of school includes work with the animal sanctuary, Habitat for Humanity and her church, including mission trips.
Denny thanked the Student of the Month committee and its supporters, stating, “I know it’s really big for me and I’m sure it’s really big for all the other students that are receiving this award.”
Denny thanked God for her ability to be selfless and noted that next summer she will go on a second mission trip to Ethiopia to work with the Unforgotten Faces Team and “help with the kids, because that’s really important to me.”
Denny, who is looking forward to playing lacrosse this year, said she plans to attend UC Berkeley and major in biology. She would eventually like to become a dermatologist.
Teacher Jessica Curry, who served seven years in the U.S. Navy, nominated Porter, who will join the U.S. Army upon graduating next year. Curry related that Porter, in addition to being “hilarious” and “very caring,” is president of the FFA and a member of the school’s JROTC program.
“It’s Marine Corps JROTC and every day she goes in and tells them, ‘go Army,’ and they judge her for that,” said Curry to the amusement of the gathering. “It’s a beautiful thing that she wants to serve her country.”
Curry said that Porter owns an infectious personality.
“She’s so bright and so fun to be around that other classmates really gravitate towards her,” said Curry. “In a class where a lot of students were struggling, she helped everyone in the class and she helped me.”
Curry concluded by saying Porter is a role model.
“My favorite thing about Sidney is I love to see strong women growing, not only in our schools and communities, but also in our (military) service,” said Curry. “I think there are a lot of great, strong women out there to show our little girls that you can be whatever you want to be. Sidney does everything, and she’s still her. She doesn’t need to fit a mold to be in the Army, she doesn’t need to fit a mold to be in Ag, and that’s one of my favorite things about her.”
Porter thanked all her instructors and said she has been “blessed with the opportunity to go to Fallbrook High School.”
“I’ve been involved with FFA all four years and tried to do everything I could in FFA because it’s been such a good opportunity for me,” said Porter. “I’m in the Marine Corps JROTC, which is fun and I get roasted every day for it, but I’m the platoon commander for my platoon this year. I love it.”
Porter, proudly wearing an ARMY T-shirt, informed the audience that she had enlisted two weeks ago.
“I’m going to be a 68 Charlie – practical nursing specialist,” said Porter. “It’s a really good opportunity for me personally. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to doing for a long time, so I’m really excited for my future.”
Ivy teacher Kim Gage explained how his nominee, Cifuentes, has battled back magnificently at Ivy High School after falling greatly behind in his studies during a 2 1/2-year stretch at Fallbrook High.
“Students have to make a decision when they come to Ivy (a continuation school),” said Gage, explaining the kids have to decide whether they’re going to “bear down, face my fears and get my act together” or “continue on the road that took me down losing so many credits.”
“Brian came in with an attitude of ‘this is all going to change,’” said Gage. “He’s maintained a 3.4 GPA over the time that he’s been at Ivy and he’s recovered all of his credits, enough to where he’s going to graduate out of Fallbrook High School in June.”
Gage, pausing to fight back tears, then added, “And that’s pretty good, because it takes a special individual to be able to bear down and do that. Brian stepped up to the plate and turned it around, and I’m so proud of him.”
Cifuentes expressed gratitude to all in attendance and acknowledged that he has had to endure the lack of a family structure.
“Sadly, my mom hasn’t been here for two years,” said Cifuentes. “I haven’t had a male figure (in my life) since I was 10. Dad had to leave for some circumstances, so I haven’t seen him in seven years. Life’s been pretty hard.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” continued Cifuentes. “Days are easy, days are hard, but I keep going and I try to strive to do my best to accomplish my goals. My goal is to graduate from Fallbrook High School and go to a community college and transfer. I want to major in music but I’m willing to go wherever God wants to take me.”