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Eight Students Recognized as Part of the First Annual Every Student Succeeding Awards
Posted 1/17/23

ESS Award Winners

Every student deserves equal opportunities to succeed. Each school day, our dedicated educators and courageous students overcome tremendous obstacles to reach their goals of academic excellence. Huntington Beach City School District (HBCSD) recognizes eight students for their efforts in overcoming obstacles to reach their goals. In its inaugural year, the Every Student Succeeding Awards program honors students at all grade levels who have succeeded against all odds, beyond expectations, or simply won the hearts of the administrators and other educators who helped them achieve their goals. Their success is our success; their powerful stories are our inspiration. 

Each school was asked to submit the name of the student they believe exemplifies these core values and has made a special effort to succeed and overcome obstacles. As part of the awards program, students were invited to a special ceremony where they were presented with their awards by Superintendent Dr. Leisa Winston and Board President Dr. Paul Morrow. Students were also joined by their principals, District leadership, Board members, and loved ones.

“We are thrilled to implement this awards program to recognize our incredible students’ determination, academic efforts, and perseverance!” said Superintendent Dr. Leisa Winston.

Below are the 2023 HBCSD Every Student Succeeding Award Winners:

Sophia Q

Sophia Quesada, 4th Grade, Eader Elementary School

Over the past year, Sophia has shown amazing growth and maturity in many ways. In particular, she has exemplified initiative in recognizing her needs and growth opportunities. She has practiced using positive coping skills, seeking and accepting help from others, and developing positive relationships with her teachers and peers. Sophia deserves recognition and praise for the work she has put in and the progress she has made.

Bella Olson

Bella Olson, 5th Grade, Hawes Elementary School

Bella became a Hawes Hawk last year as a 4th grader. When she joined the school, she struggled to find her place. As her teacher and support team learned more about Bella, they learned that she had endured unimaginable hardships, including the loss of her mother. She has been courageous through these painful circumstances and has continued to show up every day and work hard to succeed. Through much support and consistency, Bella learned that we were here to support her. Her attitude changed in big ways, and she is achieving amazing things.

Gunnar Sullivan

Gunnar Sullivan, 3rd Grade, Moffett Elementary School 

Gunnar started at Moffett in September 2020.  He did not receive the necessary support during online distance learning when his previous school was closed due to the COVID pandemic. As a result, he was behind in all academic areas and expressive language, which impacted his ability to communicate effectively with peers and adults. Many things make Gunnar a special student, but the main thing that sets him apart from others is his hard work and determination. He had his share of struggles but never gave up when things were difficult. Because of his amazing work ethic, he persevered and has become a stronger student. Aside from academics, Gunnar is a kind and friendly student. He always greets everyone with a smile on his face. 

Kekoa L.

Kekoa Lebistre, 3rd Grade, Peterson Elementary School

Kekoa started kindergarten at Peterson when we were virtual halfway through the year.  Despite the distance learning for the last part of the year, Kekoa showed tremendous growth. His academic successes continued through the next year when he remained in virtual learning and when he returned to Peterson in person for his second and third-grade years. Although there have been times when he has struggled along the way, he has always remained upbeat. Kekoa is well-liked by his peers, partially due to his cheerful nature. There is not a day that goes by that he doesn’t greet you with a smile and ask how you are doing. He is a student that you can depend on for anything without complaint. He gives 100% effort into everything he does. Kekoa will go far in his education and anything he sets out to do because of his caring, thoughtful, and optimistic attitude.

Kai Z.

Kai Zahedi Heffner, 5th Grade, Seacliff Elementary School  

Throughout Kai’s educational journey, her support team has seen her flourish into a student that loves to complete work independently and enjoys working with peers during collaborative activities. Her team witnessed her initial preference for limited interaction with others change over time. Her increased awareness of others and independent responses to conversations have allowed her to connect with peers and staff in a way that she is comfortable and happy. Kai’s participation in the Academy of Performing Arts for Kids after-school program empowered her to practice social skills, strengthening her relationships at school. She exudes confidence when participating in activities that highlight her love of being part of the Seacliff community of students. 

Santiago B

Santiago (Santi) Barrios Ortega, 5th Grade, Smith Elementary School

Santi has been in our District since Kindergarten and has grown a great deal not only academically but, more importantly, socially and emotionally.  In the past, large groups or noise have been challenging and upsetting for Santi. However, this year alone, he volunteered to ask a question in front of the entire school at our Red Ribbon Week Assembly and sang a solo in the Winter Choral Performance. Instead of playing independently at recess, he plays with his peers and has formed great friendships. He is an amazing young man, and his support team is so proud of him.

Kelli Ma

Kelli Ma, 7th Grade,  Dwyer Middle School

Kelli is always such a joy and always has a smile on her face. Despite the physical obstacles she has faced with having a visual impairment and significant medical issues, she is always cheerful.  Her determination and strength are something we can all draw from. Just recently she underwent a 10+ hour surgery, certainly her longest surgery. With her support team’s help, she returned to school with her steadfast work ethic and positive attitude. She brightens any room she is in or any place she goes. Some of the terms used about her include: a hoot, resilient, tough girl, determined, loved, carefree, and the list could go on. Kelli is recognized everywhere she goes on campus and is beloved by her school community. 

Ella L.

Ella Lottatore, 7th Grade, Sowers Middle School 

For many students, middle school is challenging. Throw in a pandemic and a transition to a new school (elementary to middle), and there are even bigger hurdles to overcome. Such is the case for Ella. Last year, as a brand new sixth grader, she struggled to keep up with the academic rigor. This resulted in her receiving several low marks on her report card. Along with her academic struggles, peer relationships were difficult. While she got along well with others, she lacked the motivation and focus to reach her full potential. With the intervention of her support team, such as focusing on academic check-ins, overcoming anxiety, and promoting positive peer relationships, Ella made significant changes. By the end of sixth grade, she began to advocate for herself within her classes, and currently, her grades, attendance, and work habits have improved drastically. In addition, she began developing new friendships that lifted her and allowed her to focus on her academics and self-confidence. She is excited to come to school, interact with peers and teachers, and perform up to her capability. While the Sowers team played a role in her improvement, it was ultimately Ella that chose to be the student and person she is today.

Congratulations to all of our Every Student Succeeding Award winners!