High-achiever struggles after brain injury
July 29, 2019
Valeria Montes always excelled in her classes. She says school always came easy to her. “Ever since I’ve been in middle school or even elementary, you can see that I was one of the successful kids,” Valeria said. “I was always in honors and I knew that I would always get straight A’s in my classes.” But in the fall of her freshman year at Chino High, Valeria was in a bike accident. She hit her head on the pavement. A few months later, Valeria took another blow to the head during a soccer match.  “I didn’t feel any different, but the way I was comprehending the topics and all that, it wasn’t the same,” Valeria said. “All the lights would be 10 times brighter than before. I would kind of see little dots and lights around. I thought I needed glasses at that point.” Doctors first diagnosed Valeria with a migraine headache, but the symptoms never seemed to fit. After nearly a year of countless appointments and hospital visits, a neurologist told Valeria she suffered a traumatic brain injury with post-concussion syndrome. “At that point, I felt a relief, but along with that relief, a kind of worry that I’d never get back to where I was,” Valeria said. “I had to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to graduate top 10.” Valeria struggled with bouts of depression given the uncertainty of her future. Chino High AVID teacher Jon Davis admits it was hard watching one of his students deal with that type of pain. “Just to see her spiral is the hardest thing because you want your kids to succeed,” Davis said. “We try to do as much as we can as teachers to help them through the process. But when you don’t know what’s wrong, it’s really hard to help.” Valeria’s grades suffered, so she transferred to Buena Vista Continuation High where she could take independent study classes. She returned to Chino High for her senior year with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. “When you go through obstacles like this, unfortunately for many people, it has a tendency to harden your heart,” Chino High principal John Miller said. “Not Valeria. If anything, she’s learned to love more. She’s just got that emotional, intellectual and academic maturity that you just don’t see very often.” Upon her return, Valeria made it clear to teachers and administrators that she wanted to fulfill her goal of graduating with her class.  “She came in and really right away was in a professional, polite, wonderful way advocating for herself,” Chino High Assistant Principal Anna Purcell said. On May 28, Valeria was dressed in cap and gown as she received her high school diploma. And while she said she would have liked to graduate in the top 10 of her class, graduating was an accomplishment in and of itself. “It’s really emotional because I wouldn’t have thought I’d get to this point,” Valeria said. “I didn’t know if I would get back to this school or even to this point. I didn’t know if I’d be able to graduate. Now I’m just grateful for graduating at all.”
Valeria Montes struggled with school and her mental health following a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators