The Newport-Mesa Unified School District this week recognized six seniors who exemplify “the six pillars of character” — caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness — with its annual Character Trait Awards.
Principals of the six high schools nominated six students from each campus. Supt. Fred Navarro and the principals worked to select one winner from each school.
The school board will formally recognize the students on June 11 and banners featuring their faces, names, schools and character traits will hang in the district office throughout the next school year.
The Character Trait Awards began in 2013.
“We said, ‘We should do character awards because that’s about a human’s personality,’” Navarro said. “It’s about their character. It’s about their essence, and we didn’t have any other awards that quite covered that. It’s just really heartwarming that you’re recognizing somebody for who they are, rather than what they’ve accomplished.”
Elise McHenry, Jennifer Neri, Zurich Bisoso, Alexander Johnson, Belen Godinez and Ty Thabit are this year’s winners.
Caring: Elise McHenry, Early College High School
McHenry is among the 48 students graduating Thursday from Early College High. She plans to major in accounting this fall at Humboldt State.
“It feels really good just being recognized for my hard work,” McHenry said.
Early College Principal Dave Martinez said a school committee nominated McHenry for her “genuine caring for the staff, for the students.”
“She goes above and beyond that. It’s not about her; it’s just selflessness,” Martinez said. “She had been recognized by us over the years since her freshman year, so this is more of a cumulation of what she’s done here for close to four years at ECHS.”
McHenry looks forward to graduation, but said that “I’m probably going to cry a lot. I did at last graduation — and that wasn’t even my graduation. So excited for that and then Grad Night the next day at Disneyland. Exciting stuff.”
Citizenship: Jennifer Neri, Estancia High School
Jennifer Neri plans to graduate from Estancia in June and then major in philosophy at UC Berkeley in the fall with the goal of eventually going to law school.
“It means a lot to me to get recognized for everything I’ve done for this school as well because this school has impacted me a lot and made me grow in ways I never expected to grow,” Neri, who is senior class president, said. “… this campus … allowed me to make other people feel valuable, meanwhile going through difficult times.
“Everybody goes through difficult times, but we don’t all express it the same way. Therefore, even making a small compliment or greeting other people, it makes an impact.”
Estancia Assistant Principal Jennifer Chamberlin nominated Neri for being an “exceptional student who has done a lot on our campus to promote kindness and inclusivity.”
Neri started the campus Acts of Random Kindness club and promoted Patrick’s Purpose, a nonprofit that uses bracelets to call attention to mental wellness and a “culture of kindness.”
“[Neri’s] a completely well-rounded student who’s kind to everyone and has such a bright future ahead of her,” Chamberlin said. “She’s really deserving of every award. … [I’m] sad to see her go.”
Fairness: Zurich Bisoso, Newport Harbor High School
Zurich Bisoso plans to major in criminal justice at the University of San Francisco following June graduation.
Her career goal is to “fight for fairness and equity,” according to the Harbor administrators who filled out her nomination form.
“When life treats you unfairly, Zurich is who you want to be on your side,” Principal Sean Boulton said. “She has truly brought about positive change on our campus.”
Bisoso could not be reached for comment.
Bisoso serves on the leadership board for Latinos Unidos, an advocacy club for Latino students, and is yearbook photo editor.
The nomination form called her “instrumental” in ensuring Latino representation in the yearbook. This year’s yearbook cover photo will feature a Latina student for the first time.
Respect: Alexander Johnson, Back Bay High School
Alexander Johnson will graduate in June and then join the Marines four days later. He plans on attending college while enlisted, potentially majoring in business.
Johnson called the award for respect an honor.
“Alex came to us and we really didn’t know a lot about him,” Back Bay Principal Michael Wagner said. “From Day One, he’s just been such a great kid for our school. Teachers love him. He’s never been upset; he’s never been in a bad mood; he’s never complained about anything. He’s done anything we’ve ever asked him to do. His attendance is phenomenal.”
Back Bay administrators wrote that Johnson is extremely polite, always asks for permission, holds open doors for others and speaks politely.
“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,’” administrators wrote.
Responsibility: Belen Godinez, Costa Mesa High School
Belen Godinez plans to major in psychology at UC Irvine after graduating in June.
“I’m very honored. I never really expected to be awarded something like this,” she said. “I’m very glad I was nominated and chosen for this. I’m very grateful for all my teachers and staff members here at Costa Mesa. They really did help me grow as a person — and as a student.”
She is looking into becoming a sports psychologist and called Costa Mesa High School athletic trainer David McNeil an inspiration.
He “shows a lot of caring and compassion toward his athletes and always wants the best for them,” she said. “I kind of wanted to bring the same thing back out into the world.”
Godinez is part of Estancia Patient Care Pathway, a program that combines academic instruction with specialized training for students interested in healthcare professions.
“[Godinez] missed a semester of school from some setbacks and never wavered in her grades and her commitment to academics. Even though we went and said, ‘Hey. Just make sure you’re focusing on you.’ She had no part of that,” Costa Mesa Principal Jacob Haley said, “She’s like, ‘No. I’m going to be involved in school, and I’m gonna still continue to grow and make sure that my mind is expanding.’”
Godinez said she’s looking forward to getting her high school diploma and celebrating with her family because “they’re very happy I’m here, and I’m alive and enjoying this moment.”
Trustworthiness: Ty Thabit, Corona del Mar High School
Ty Thabit plans to major in economics at Harvard following graduation in June.
“Honestly, I was surprised at first and kind of confused what was going on,” Thabit said of winning the award. “Once I heard [what the award was], I felt very proud. It was very rewarding. … I’m surprised by the award, but I do think of myself as a trustworthy person.”
Principal Kathy Scott said the nomination was based on teacher feedback.
“It was all everybody saying that if [he] didn’t know the answer, that he would find the answer,” Scott said. “He was not arrogant in any way and incredibly helpful to all students and staff. He’s one of the people that teachers would go to, to be a student leader in the classroom and know that he would do a good job and he would support other kids.”
Thabit “can be trusted to accomplish tasks exceptionally well and on time,” CdM administrators wrote. “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.”
Thabit is part of the Future Business Leaders of America program.