ESS Region 4: Victor Peña

August 24, 2020
ACSA Region 4 2020 Every Student Succeeding Victor Peña.
ACSA Region 4 2020 Every Student Succeeding Victor Peña.
Editor’s note: ACSA’s video series profiling the winners of the Every Student Succeeding awards program was impacted by COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions. Each week, EdCal will feature Q&A interviews with all 19 winners from each ACSA region. In addition, there will be video stories of the students whose footage was completed before the pandemic. Watch for these videos to premiere on ACSA’s YouTube channel and ACSA’s Facebook page this fall.  Grade: 12 School: Santa Rosa High School District: Santa Rosa City Schools ACSA region: 4 Victor Peña wasn’t interested in school early in life. His parents were high school students in Santa Rosa when he was born, and his father was in and out of prison for years. Victor’s mother raised him and his brothers as a single parent.  In fifth grade, teacher Mrs. Kam tested him for Gifted and Talented Education, and Victor scored higher than any student who had previously tested. His grades improved, but he struggled in middle school. For his sophomore year of high school, Victor’s family moved to Mexico, where he ran for class president and won. When the 2017 Puebla earthquake struck central Mexico, Victor created a regional donation center for earthquake victims that became a statewide disaster relief center. When he returned to Santa Rosa for 11th grade, he realized some of his courses from Mexico would not transfer to Santa Rosa High School. “He was instrumental in leading the change in Santa Rosa City Schools board policy about courses on international transcripts and their placement on our high school transcripts, so that students from other countries can graduate from our district,” said Superintendent Diann Kitamura. Victor said arguing his case to the board introduced him to public speaking, which he plans to use in his future career. “Hopefully, one day I’ll be running for public office and for a school board,” he said. What are your favorite subjects and hobbies? My favorite school subject has always been history and the social sciences — being able to connect with people and learn about the past and not commit the same mistake twice. I was very active in school politics. I went to more of the district meetings and ELAT (English Literature Admissions Test) meetings to speak about what we could do to benefit our EL learners. I spent my time in high school at those meetings and advocating for those students. In a way, it’s my duty. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are today? I grew up without a father figure. In the end, that was more of a motivation. If anything, an obstacle that was challenging was finding the motivation to try in school and pursue higher education. It wasn’t until three years ago when I decided to lock down and focus on pursuing higher education, and shoot for the best grades and academic scores. Before that, I was a straight D and F student. My main goal was just to graduate and hope for the best.  What educator helped you along the way and how did they help you? If I had to choose overall — that one educator that really started that change for me and started opening my eyes and was able to come down from being just a teacher to a mentor and friend — that would be Ed Navarro. He’s principal at Rincon Valley Middle in Santa Rosa. When I got into his class, I was an F student and didn’t want to be there. We were able to connect on a deeper level. He told me about the gifts I have. I never knew I was a pretty good writer until he gave me the opportunity. He guided me and worked with me to better my skills as a writer. That was my biggest gift. What advice would you have for students facing similar situations? For students coming from outside the country, the biggest advice I have to give to them is to have “ganas” (the will) to continue. That’s what you have to have. Don’t be scared by the tough parts of having to learn a new language. Find that an opportunity to grow as a person.  What does it mean to win this award? I’m grateful that I have won this award. I’m very honored. I think of it as a way not to get my message out, but to be able to put my story, and not just mine but a story that tens of thousands of students have been able to relate to.

Every Student Succeeding winners overcome the odds

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