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Newport-Mesa Recognizes Six Seniors as Part of the Annual Superintendent Character Trait Awards
Posted 6/12/19



Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) recognized six high school seniors for their exceptional character leadership traits. For the seventh year in a row, Superintendent Dr. Fred Navarro recognized one graduating senior from each high school who exemplifies one of the six pillars of character: caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness.

Each high school is asked to submit the names of six seniors they believe exemplify each pillar. Superintendent Dr. Navarro and each of the high school principals review the 36 nominations and as a group select one student from each school that best represents one of the six pillars.

“I am always thrilled for this award because it honors principles of good character and acknowledges students for being upstanding, kind people,” said Superintendent Dr. Fred Navarro.

In May, each student received a surprise visit at their school from Superintendent Navarro and was presented a letter of recognition and an invitation to be recognized by the Board of Education at the June 12, 2019 Board Meeting. Each student also has a banner with their name, photo, school, and character trait that is displayed in the district office the following school year, as a reminder to all who enter to have good character.

Below is an overview of each of the 2019 Character Trait Award Winners:

Caring: Elise McHenry, Early College High School

Elise McHenryElise McHenry always has thoughtful and insightful answers to questions in class, but what truly sets her apart is the genuine and kind ways in which she responds. She also has a keen sense of awareness of other people's struggles and cares deeply in helping people overcome them.

She serves as a role model to her classmates at Early College High School, always treating people equitably and with compassion. She recognizes bias and injustice in the characters of the books read in class, as in life, and speaks up for what is reasonable and will be most beneficial to all, without excluding anyone.

Elise shows the ability to care for other people's well-being by expressing gratitude for school staff and classmates for their efforts in making high school a welcoming and positive experience for her. She also regularly shows her appreciation for staff and students by baking delicious pastries.

Elise has completed nearly 400 hours of community service at the Frida Cinema Program, Orange County Film Society and Surfrider Foundation Beach Clean up. Elise will attend Humboldt State University in the fall and intends to study accounting.

Citizenship: Jennifer Neri, Estancia High School

Jennifer NeriJennifer Neri embodies the character trait of citizenship in all that she does. Jennifer was the founder of the Acts of Random Kindness Club (ARK) at Estancia High School. As founder and president of ARK, she coordinates activities on campus that promote a culture of kindness and inclusiveness. She has a genuine care for others and not only works to be inclusive and kind, but also tries to get others to join her mission, thereby organically spreading kindness throughout the campus.

On several occasions Jennifer has organized a group of students to place positive messages and decorate students' lockers, teacher's classrooms and classified staff members' workspaces to brighten their day and thank them for all they do to support students and each other.

With a passion for supporting all students and fighting for what's right, Jennifer also promotes Patrick's Purpose Foundation, which aims to promote mental wellness in schools and create a student-driven culture of kindness through educational programs and initiatives. As part of her promotion of this organization, Jennifer made hundreds of bracelets to distribute to students to promote inclusion and kindness.

As senior class president of the Associated Student Body (ASB), Jennifer had meetings with school administrators and the Parent Teacher Student Association to discuss her ideas for creating a more inclusive campus. Jennifer also serves as Estancia's School Board Representative and attends NMUSD  Board meetings. Before each meeting, she meets with a site administrator to get ideas about what she can share at the meeting about academics, athletics and activities at Estancia. She models citizenship daily through her polite and friendly interactions, as well as her ability to find opportunities to make the Estancia community a better place.

Jennifer plans to study philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Fairness: Zurich Bisoso, Newport Harbor High School

Zurich BisosoZurich has dedicated herself to making Newport Harbor High School a place where all students are treated fairly. She is involved in many programs on campus and always finds ways to improve them by

ensuring that all students are involved and treated kind and fair.

As an editor on the yearbook staff she works tirelessly to make sure all voices are represented. She is the glue that holds together a diverse group that must make collective decisions. Particularly, as the photography editor, she has been a champion for all of the staff photographers. She works to ensure that the chosen images fairly represent the work of the whole team and are reflective of the school culture. She was particularly instrumental in ensuring that the schools Latino population was prominently represented. Thanks to her efforts the cover photo will, for the first time ever, be of a Latina.

As a member of the leadership board of Latinos Unidos, a campus club that advocates for the fair treatment of Latinos, Zurich has strongly expressed the goals and mission of the organization at various student government meetings, in multiple sessions with the school administration and at the school district. This has not only created awareness about the club, but awareness of the importance of promoting and including Latinos in all aspects of school and society.   

In class, Zurich uses her good sense of humor and kindness to ensure that all students have a fair opportunity of being included and heard. She speaks up for the underdog and spots those who need extra support. At times in her life, Zurich has struggled with self-esteem issues, because of this, she goes out of her way to compliment students and teachers alike to help them avoid the same problems.

“When life treats you unfairly, Zurich is who you want to be on your side,” said Newport-Harbor High School Principal Dr. Sean Boulton. “She has truly brought about positive change on our campus,” he said.   

Zurich wants to study criminal justice, making a profession out of her fight for fairness and equity.

Respect: Alexander Johnson, Back Bay High School

Alex JohnsonBeing respectful sometimes comes in the simplest forms; such as when Alexander Johnson calls all adults by "Mr./Ms.", even when other students (with permission) simply use the person's first name.

Alexander knew that he wanted to join the United States Marine Corps and he knew that having respect for himself and those around him would be important. Knowing his plan for the future was to be in the military, Alexander prioritized respecting the staff at Back Bay High School for insisting on helping him attain the grades required for military enlistment. His last year at his previous school was difficult, and his grades reflected that.

It's not exactly respect, but his politeness is a trait that deserves mention. Alexander’s teachers report that he is extremely polite. Instead of saying "can I borrow a yellow highlighter?"  he says, "Mrs. Wilson, do you mind if I borrow your yellow highlighter for a minute, please?" He always asks permission, he holds the door open for the person behind him, and he always replies, "You're welcome." He's quiet when the teacher asks for quiet, keeps his work area neat, and looks you in the eye when he says "thank you". Alexander has now officially signed on with the U.S. Marines.

Responsibility: Belen Godinez, Costa Mesa High School

Belen GodinezIn recent years Belen Godinez has been battling a series of debilitating set-backs with her health. Regardless of that, she maintained a positive attitude and never let her grades suffer.

During her sophomore year, Belen was hospitalized for an extended amount of time. There was even a time where she missed an entire semester of school for treatments. However, she refused to fall behind her peers in her academic endeavors. She maintained her rigorous course load and independently coordinated with teachers to make up missed assignments and exams, while receiving treatment.

Belen is part of the Patient Care Pathway which combines academic instruction with specialized training in the health profession. Through this coursework and hands-on experience, she has become determined to help others who have experienced an athletic injury. She is extremely resilient and is turning her traumatic experience into something positive, committing to bettering others lives by using her empathic skills for those who are struggling. She has very high standards for herself and they never wavered because of her illness. She is the best advocate for herself and hopes to do the same for others after graduation.

“Belen’s high school journey is a truly inspiring story of how you can be positive, responsible and achieve your goals, regardless of setbacks that may get in your way,” said Costa Mesa High School Principal Dr. Jake Haley.

Upon graduation, Belen plans to pursue a career in either clinical or sports psychology.

Trustworthiness: Ty Thabit, Corona del Mar High School

Ty ThabitTy Thabit is an outstanding student at Corona del Mar High School. He is exceptionally trustworthy, always straightforward and honest in his communications. Ty can be trusted to accomplish tasks exceptionally well and on time. Even when there are challenges in his accomplishment of tasks, Ty is honest about any constraints that he comes by and how he plans to overcome them to find solutions. Trustworthiness is a quality that teachers admire most about Ty, especially as part of the Future Business Leaders of America program that he is a part of.

In class, Ty also is a source of leadership for fellow students who trust him to help them with assignments and tutoring. They know that Ty will not judge, mock or make them feel bad in any way for coming to him for help.