D’Aquino “Dee” Small of Ivy High School and Joellen Banks, Deanne Do, and Oscar Escobedo of Fallbrook Union High School were honored as Fallbrook Community Students of the Month at a special breakfast held Nov. 7 at the Fallbrook Community Center.
At the opening of the program, Dale Mitchell, Ed.D, superintendent of Fallbrook Union High School district, said to the four students, “We have a reason to celebrate… [it’s] you.”
The students were selected for the honor based on their outstanding achievements in academics, community involvement, and being respected leaders among their peers.
Awards began with representatives of American Legion Post 365, Frank Larkin and Karl Fekete, presenting each of the four students with a personalized Lamp of Knowledge medal.
Dee Small was nominated for the Student of the Month honor by Ivy High School teacher John Kroeger.
“What I am impressed by is Dee’s competitive nature and his willingness to try new things,” said Kroeger. “He always focuses on what it takes to do his absolute best in everything. People that do that excel. He is very motivated and always looking toward the next challenge, the next possibility; he is very open to it.”
Small explained that he came to Ivy High School significantly behind in academic credits after relocating here from Georgia and doing a brief stint at Fallbrook High. At Ivy, Small said, he became greatly inspired to make up his credits and formulated a plan for success.
“I knew this was my last route to graduation and I wanted to make my Mom proud; at Ivy I felt welcome and loved,” said Small. “I also talked to a Marine recruiter and she told me I could really be someone in life. I started working twice as hard and I did it. I went from making C’s, D’s, and F’s to making all A’s. I know I’m going to make it now.”
Small said after graduation he plans to attend a four-year university and then go into the U.S. Air Force.
Joellen Banks was recommended for the Student of the Month honor by Fallbrook High teacher Pam Munro.
“Joellen was my number one Advanced Placement (AP) student last year,” said Munro. “She is a serious student who is brilliant, mature, determined, and dedicated. She is kind of a renaissance girl – she does it all.”
Munro said Banks is co-captain of the varsity girls tennis team and earned 2nd Team All-League last year in addition to being a member of the California Scholarship Federation (CSF), editor of the FUHS yearbook, and in the ASB leadership program. “Joellen is the ASB representative to the FUHSD Board of Trustees and the PTA as well,” said Munro. In addition, Banks is a musician, teaches Sunday school, and directs children’s plays.
“I feel so blessed to be here today and want to thank all the community members for taking the time out of their day to be here,” said Banks. “I want to thank my family for always encouraging me, and Ms. Munro for doing this for me.”
Banks said she has applied to various, small, liberal arts colleges on the West Coast and is awaiting responses. She plans to study education.
Deanne Do was honored at the recommendation of Fallbrook High teacher Estay Paulsen.
“Deanne is an AP Honors straight ‘A’ student,” said Paulsen. “She is a wonderful person. She is always smiling. I wish all my students had the work ethic and heart she has.”
Paulsen explained that Do started an Operation Smile chapter at Fallbrook High, which raises funds for children needing financial help in order to have cleft palate surgery. Do’s youngest sister was born with a cleft palate.
Do began her acceptance speech by explaining that her parents were Vietnam refugees who chose to settle in Fallbrook.
“I am so appreciative that my parents wanted to give us a better life and am very glad I was able to grow up in Fallbrook because it is such a close-knit community,” said Do. “I just want to thank everyone for recognizing me and my peers here today.” Her future plan, she said, is to become a pediatrician.
Oscar Escobedo was honored as a Student of the Month after being nominated by Fallbrook High special education teacher Rebecca McQuestion.
“I have had the honor of teaching Oscar for the last 3-1/2 years,” explained McQuestion. “Oscar has the gift of laughter and there is not a day in the last 3-1/2 years that he hasn’t made me laugh. He has a quick wit and is very diligent about his work.”
McQuestion said Escobedo has been involved in the Madrigals vocal ensemble and his longtime involvement with CAST Academy in Fallbrook, which has regularly furthered his acting and directing talent. Through that organization, he has acted in multiple plays and musicals and directed young children in five different musicals.
Jennifer Hornsveld of CAST Academy was in attendance at the breakfast and said, “Oscar started at CAST at age 6 and he is one of the kindest people I have ever known. He is able to control a room of 55 children; he is so talented.”
“It is such an honor to come up here [on stage]; it’s easy to be a character on stage, but it’s hard to be yourself on stage,” said Escobedo. “I want to thank all of you for this.” He went on to say that academics and grades challenge him, but added, “It’s my dream to have all A’s. I will tell you that success happens in Room 99 (special education).”
Escobedo also issued a special ‘thank you’ to the CAST Academy. “I want to thank Jennifer and her family for all the opportunities they have given me.” After graduation, Escobedo said he plans on obtaining an associate’s degree in theater arts at a community college and then transferring to a university to study set design and directing.
“Then I plan to come back and give back to this community and the CAST Academy which has given so much to me,” he said.
In summarizing the event, emcee Greg Coppock explained the purpose for the Fallbrook Student of the Month program, “This event is dedicated to honoring outstanding students in the Fallbrook Union High School District.” The four students received many certificates of recognition and gifts for their accomplishments.
The Fallbrook Student of the Month breakfast is funded by generous local businesses and organizations, including Major Market, Pedro’s Tacos, Robert P. Mohr D.D.S./M.S., Fallbrook PTSA, Fallbrook Vintage Car Club, and Sheri’s Flowers.
To nominate an FUHSD high school student for this honor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.