5 Times California Students Were Awesome in 2016

Holiday season is nearing an end, and most of us have our sights set on getting through the new year. As we approach the end of 2016 and beginning anew, it's a time for reflection. In education, it's easy to get caught up on everything going wrong. In fact, that's what many of us do, in hopes of improving a system that's unfortunately letting down huge swaths of our kids.

Often overlooked however, is the need to highlight the very kids we are fighting for. While we fight for policy changes and educational improvements, let us not forget how amazing our youth can be. They are the future, and that's why we fight for them. With all that said, let's look back at five times our own students here in California proved just how intelligent, innovative, and downright awesome they really are. 

1. Leon Popa, a 16 year-old junior, was sworn in as a student representative to the LAUSD school board.

Leon Popa's appointment to the board comes after 3,000 students signed a petition last year asking for a return to student representation on the board. He has the ability to vote on any issue before the board in an “advisory” capacity. 

Popa, the child of Romanian immigrants, said "I have the passion and will to help all students claim the education they need and deserve”. He also noted that includes "English-learners, gifted students, and those living in poverty”. Kudos to Leon Popa and other students recognizing that their voices need to be heard. 

2. The 'Junior Geek Squad' in Compton

“The name of our group is 'Teknolo Kids', and whenever I hear the name I just feel really important” said 10 year-old Marisol Rodriguez. She's part of a group of five 10 year-old girls at Mayo Elementary in Compton, who provide tech assistance to other students and even teachers.

Rodriguez and her four tech-savvy friends have been called on to help solve computer issues throughout the school, and to lend their expertise to other students. She says she hopes to one day work for Google. Wherever she ends up, it's clear the future is bright for her and the rest of the "junior geek squad". 

3.  San Bernardino Second-Graders Make a Difference.

After Ms. Patricia Mondragon had her students at Emmerton Elementary watch a video of people helping out after disasters, the class decided to make a "needs" chart. They were listing things they could do to help their community, eventually choosing to collect blankets for the homeless, who they knew would be cold with winter coming up.

They presented to other classes, greeted parents while explaining their blanket drive and hung fliers, all in hopes of reaching their goal of 120 blankets. The mini-volunteers surpassed that mark, collecting 139 blankets to donate. If only we could all show the compassion of Ms. Mondragon and her class.

4. Muslim students in Garden Grove respond to hate mail

This one goes out to everyone at Orange Crescent School. After receiving a hate-filled, genocide-threatening letter that called muslims "children of Satan", the school and students decided to respond. 

Rather than ignoring the ordeal, the principal and members of student government addressed the letter while speaking to the student-body. They shared that over 230 letters were written by students in response to the message. Politicians and members of the community were also present, with some local church youth-groups bringing "letters of peace".

Garden Grove's mayor, Steve Jones, applauded the school and staff for taking “something hurtful and turning it into a teachable moment.”

5. Brave Pre-K Student Holds it Together on his First Day of School.. Almost.

Last but not least, the time a brave LAUSD Pre-K student was interviewed on his first day of school. He did his best to stay strong when asked if he would miss his mom, but it looks like as he was processing the question, he realized what he was in for. 

This little guy went viral after the interview was posted on a local news station. Sources say he received a hug from his mom immediately after, and made it through his first day of Pre-K.

Happy Holidays, keep fighting for our kids!