Lake Elsinore area students honored in December

Recipients of the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce Student of the Month award for December are, standing from left, Jesus Najera, Landon Wilson, Samuel Carvajal Guerrero and Erik Perez; and seated from left, Supatchar Tran, Mckenna Bishop, Eva Kemle and Ashley Saldana. Valley News/John P. Hess photo

The Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce Student of the Month program, celebrating its 28th season of honoring students who make a difference, held its December recognition ceremony at the Lakeside High School Lancer Round Table Café Tuesday, Dec. 12. Lunch was prepared and served by members of the Lakeside Culinary Academy.

Kim Joseph Cousins, president and CEO of Lake Elsinore Chamber of Commerce, welcomed everyone to the local high school program that acknowledges and honors college or trade school bound seniors for their character, love of learning and commitment to academics, in addition to participation in athletics, school activities and community service. It also commends those who have persevered through challenging life circumstances, all in a setting that honors God, country, family, community and free enterprise.

Large tote bags filled with gifts, certificates of recognition and much more donated by the program’s sponsors were given to the award recipients. Each student received a commemorative medallion and was invited to the podium to share their personal story, past challenges and future goals with a room full of supporters that included principals, teachers, peers and family members, as well as community and school district dignitaries.

December’s students of the month are Elsinore High School’s Mckenna Bishop and Landon Wilson, Keith McCarthy Academy’s Ashley Saldana, Lakeside High School’s Jesus Najera and Supatchar Tran, Ortega High School’s Erik Perez and Temescal Canyon High School’s Samuel Carvajal Guerrero and Eva Kemle.

Elsinore High School

Mckenna Bishop was chosen to represent Elsinore High School this month, and Principal Robbin Hamilton described her as a three-sport athlete who is in the top two of her class, serves as California Scholarship Federation secretary and National Honor Society vice president and participates in Student Venture and Earth Club while taking dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses. She plans to attend University of California Irvine to study psychological sciences with an emphasis on child development.

“I have always enjoyed working with children and want to develop my skills and an understanding of how our environments affect how and why we become the people that we are,” Bishop said.

She said that throughout her years at Elsinore High she has challenged herself by taking rigorous classes and is thankful and proud that her hard work has paid off.

“With over 11 years as a Girl Scout, I am now working towards the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive, the Gold Award,” Bishop said.

To earn it, she is giving back to her community by addressing the under-representation of women in sports by creating a website that brings recognition and provides information on women’s sports teams and those involved.

Landon Wilson, who is Associated Student Body president, school board representative and captain of the boys’ volleyball, was introduced by Hamilton as someone who is, “absolutely faithful and always there to serve.” He is the youngest of seven children who have all attended Elsinore High School. Wilson thanked his family, friends and mentors that included Cameron Lymon for their support. A lesson he said he learned from another mentor, Danny Templeton, is that happiness comes from the journey and not from the destination. In working toward goals, it’s about the process of reaching them. Wilson was in a serious car accident right before the start of his senior year that set him back in many aspects of his life and he thought it would be difficult to overcome. But the support he received helped him. He said the way to give back to the community that helped him is to be positive and to share that positivity in any way he can.

“A quote that has helped me a lot and I feel will help other seniors because there’s a lot of uncertainty going on in our lives is ‘The Man in the Arena’ by Theodore Roosevelt,” Wilson said. In part, the quote is, “It is not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly.”

Keith McCarthy Academy singled out Ashley Saldana for December’s honor. Principal Peter Hopping said Saldana has attended KMA since seventh grade and shared comments from teachers about who Saldana is and what she’s all about.

“She is thoughtful and reflective, polite, respectful and a joy to have on campus” and “she is a kind soul,” he said.

Another teacher remarked that the senior is “considerate with an exceptional work ethic.”

“With all I have overcome and accomplished, the good moments and the not so good, I’m happy to say that I do not seek to give up on myself anymore,” Saldana said. “I have goals, I have plans and I have dreams. I want to move forward with a hope and a readiness to reach new places, experiences and limitless joy.”

She loves photography and art design and hopes to pursue a career in those fields.

“Photography is a passion for me,” Saldana said. “The moment, the memory behind the photograph reminds me of the many reasons why this world can be looked at as such a bittersweet and bubbly place to live in and cherish.”

She shared a quote that she said she’d always like to remember and live by: “‘Sometimes life gives you what you need more than what you want’ and for me that was KMA.”

Lakeside High School

Jesus Najera was introduced by Lakeside Principal Jason Eldridge as an involved AVID student who plans to attend University of California Irvine to major in biochemistry so he can one day work in the medical field and do his part to help people around him.

“Here on campus I do my best to be involved with clubs and events,” Najera said.

He is president of Culture Club and the Spanish Honor Society.

“Being in AVID has helped me overcome a lot of barriers that I made for myself, thinking I didn’t need anyone else’s help and could do everything alone,” he said.

He credits peers, teachers and mentors for opening his eyes to the fact they weren’t just people but rather a family he could go to whenever he needed help and a family he could trust, a family that helped him discover himself, in and out of school.

“Thanks to them I am proud to say I’m prepared for college and for anything that comes toward me academically and emotionally,” Najera said.

Supatchar Tran is Lakeside’s choice for this month and Eldridge said she is quiet and reserved, but not shy and that she has a strong voice on campus. She is the founder and president of the Garden Club, president of the Asian Student Union and Medic World and vice president of the school’s Interact Club. She aims to attend University of California Irvine to study biochemistry and join the medical field in hopes of becoming an anesthesiologist.

“Living with a heart condition of my own and I suppose being surrounded by doctors for a large part of my life, the idea of getting to be part of that team and help those with problems that may need more than a simple fix is something I very much would not mind spending the rest of my life doing,” Tran said. “Throughout my life I think it’s safe to say I’ve had to learn to adapt and work with whatever conditions the situations may place me in.”

AVID coordinator Michelle Henricks said, “She’s a bright ray of sunshine. She exudes confidence and despite her heart condition, she shows up every day living life the way we should be living it.”

Ortega High School chose to recognize Erik Perez, and Principal Greg Cleave explained that his school has two areas of focus, credit recovery and accelerated quarter-based programs. As part of the latter program, Perez was on track to graduate the same week he received this honor. He started at Ortega in his junior year and has earned straight As. Perez said when he was a student at Elsinore High he didn’t make school a priority.

“Ortega made me realize graduating was important,” he said.

He said he had the bad habit of not wanting to ask for help.

“So, the biggest lesson I learned at Ortega is to never be afraid to ask for help,” Perez said.

For the future, he is looking at going into real estate or enlisting in the military. His algebra and blended health teacher Camille Michaluk said, “We always have students that make us better teachers and in the three quarters I had the privilege of being Erik’s teacher, that’s what Erik did for me. In his positive approach to learning as well as his interactions with other students, Erik not only ensured his own success at Ortega High School but also the success of other students.”

Temescal Canyon High School

Samuel Carvajal Guerrero was introduced by Temescal Canyon High Principal Joshua Hill as a member of the school’s Titan Engineering & Technology Academy and a member of the varsity boys’ volleyball team. He hopes to study mechanical or electrical engineering in college.

Hill shared comments from some of Samuel’s teachers.

“Sam is a positive role model in class” and “for his time in high school, Samuel has been the consummate professional student,” Hill said.

Guerrero said, “One of the things I’m most proud of is taking opportunities on things that interest me or benefit others. For example, I went to a local middle school and spoke to students about the Engineering Academy and talked about what we do in school and what to gain. Through these opportunities, I’ve discovered new aspects of myself and the world around me. I have developed new skills, gained new knowledge, made new friends and had fun along the way. I believe that taking opportunities on things is not only good for personal growth but it’s also good for our society.”

Guerrero’s English teacher Stephanie DeGraffenreid said, “He has an emotional intelligence; he’s very good at reading people and knowing what people need and helping them. It’s very refreshing as a teacher when your students teach you something.”

Eva Kemle, who is also a member of the Engineering Academy, was described by Principal Hill as a student who is a member of National Honor Society, Society of Women Engineers, Black Student Union and captain of the varsity girls’ volleyball team. Kemle is currently working on obtaining her private pilot’s license and would like to attend University of Southern California to study aerospace engineering.

“Her great attitude and leadership helped her shine in her role as a youth volleyball coach where she helps beginning players learn the fundamentals of the game,” her teachers said.

Kemle, who has a 4.7 GPA, said aerospace has always been a passion for her and she enjoys the weekends when she gets to fly Cessna 172s and 182s. After earning her engineering degree, she plans to attend law school and study intellectual property to become a patent attorney.

“One specific lesson that will follow me to college is that I’ve learned that nothing is out of reach. Hard work and unwavering dedication have yielded the fulfillment of my wildest dreams,” Kemle said. “As the oldest of six children, I’ve had the privilege of setting an example for my siblings.”

Robert Parks, who started the Titan Engineering & Technology Academy, explained that it is like a school within a school where he gets to teach the same students throughout their four years and they all go through the program together, “so we have a very special bond.”

For more information on the program, contact Kim Joseph Cousins at 951-245-8848 or Donna Romo at

Diane A. Rhodes