Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh has named 30 students as this year’s Mayor’s Top Teens. The program honors teens who have demonstrated a strong commitment to serving others, overcome adversity or unique obstacles in life, achieved a significant accomplishment, or served as positive role models for their peers. Following are excerpts from the biographies used in selecting the honorees.
Jahnae Askew, Enochs High School
↑As the oldest sibling, Jahnae felt the calling of familial responsibility when her mother fell ill. At first, her education suffered. But she quickly challenged herself to stay engaged in school.
Jahnae serves as an Enochs High Black Student Union leader. She also works with the Men’s Group, which helps young males develop career skills. As a Girl Scout, Jahnae volunteers to assist elementary school students and the homeless. She has served in the Modesto Gospel Mission’s Children Helping All People program and is a representative of the Enochs High Forensic Biotech program, which helps elementary school students understand core science concepts.
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Jahnae is a member of cheer and dance squads, and for several years has made the Academic Renaissance List as a core science demonstrator.
Hannah Barkus, Downey High School
↑Hannah’s commitment to serving her community stems from the loss of her grandmother to cancer years ago. Once her childhood friend, her grandmother now inspires Hannah to always give her best effort. She credits her parents for instilling her with drive and determination.
Hannah volunteers annually as a camp counselor for foster children; she hopes the children learn as much from her as she learns from them. Hannah also serves as the ASB rally commissioner and captain of the varsity volleyball team.
Prachi Bulsara, Davis High School
↑With the support of friends, teachers, and family, Prachi rose above the ethnic and religious discrimination she’s experienced to become a confident and driven leader in her school and community.
Prachi volunteers regularly with Modesto Gospel Mission. She also dedicates time to the Autism Bike Camp and Kiwanis One Day, where she packaged food for children in underdeveloped countries. Prachi also serves as the Davis High coordinator for Becca’s Closet, an organization that gives formal dresses to underprivileged girls.
Prachi is ASB vice president and Key Club and CSF president. She participates in Science Bowl and is a student representative on the School Site Council.
Connor Cogdill, Enochs High School
↑With the help of his family and a speech therapist, Connor overcame a speech impediment and now excels as a member of the Enochs High Debate Team.
He recently traveled to Mexico, where he helped build homes as a Christian missionary. He has volunteered with the Orville Wright Jumpstart Academy. Connor also interned with Rep. Jeff Denham’s campaign and works at the Enochs High Peer Resource Program.
Connor earned the President’s Education Award, took first place in the National Forensic Congressional Debate and is a member of the National Debate Association. Connor serves his church youth group and is captain of the Enochs Water Polo Team.
Jennifer Cordova, Modesto High School
↑Jennifer volunteers with the Alley Cat Guardians and the Parent Teacher Club. She also serves as a children’s activity director with Sierra Vista Child & Family Services.
Jennifer was recently named most outstanding student by Upward Bound, a program offered by Modesto Junior College. As a member of Modesto High’s Performing Arts Academy, she was named the student of the semester. Her swim team recently awarded her with the most outstanding student award and named her as captain.
Summer Cortez, Downey High School
↑Summer participates in Girl Scouts, Environmental Club and California Scholarship Federation and is a distinguished president of Key Club International. She has completed more than 300 hours of community service, both as an assistant coach for youth soccer and as a volunteer with a local retirement center.
Summer has received awards including the California State Legislature Certificate of Merit, the Academic Block “D” Award and the Renaissance Academic Achievement Award. She earned the Girl Scouts Silver Award, for which she constructed a handicapped-accessible garden for the residents of a local retirement center. She participates in several other clubs and was on the Downey High tennis team as a freshman and sophomore.
James De La O, Modesto High School
↑Each month, James makes tamales and pies for the sick and elderly. He tutors numerous students in math. James received the Coach’s Award for Modesto High cross country, as well as multiple Science Olympiad medals. He was the first team, all-league offensive lineman for freshman football and second team, all-conference MMC cross country.
In addition to being an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) student, James is extremely passionate about photography and is a member of the International Baccalaureate visual arts program, as well as the full International Baccalaureate program.
Kennedy Felton, Enochs High School
↑As the oldest of six children, Kennedy provided strength and comfort for her siblings when one of her sisters passed away years ago. The experience inspired Kennedy to seek out those who are suffering and help them with kindness, support and friendship.
Kennedy is the president of her church’s self-help group for young women. She plans and holds weekly activities that focus on boosting self-worth, developing skills and giving back to the community. She has volunteered with Memorial Medical Center, Habitat for Humanity and the Autism Awareness Group.
Kennedy plays soccer and volleyball and runs cross country. She plays flute and is teaching herself the piano. Kennedy has served twice as a camp counselor and volunteered with the Youth Special Olympics.
Juston Forte, Central Catholic High School
↑Juston is vice president of Key Club and actively seeks projects in which the club may participate. It provides meals for the less fortunate, partners with the Boys and Girls Club of Modesto and helps with fundraisers for Community Hospice. Juston also belongs to the Social Justice Club and participates annually in the Adopt a Family program.
When not supporting other school sports, Juston plays soccer and runs cross country. He is a member of the Book Club, the Bowling Club, the Spanish Club, the Speech and Debate Team and the Academic Decathlon team and participates in numerous other activities for his school.
Jaskirat Gaelan, Modesto High School
↑As president of Modesto High’s Project Hope, Jaskirat and other members helped build a school in Ghana. Last year, she founded an after-school tutoring program at Enslen Elementary and actively recruits high school students to provide this service. Through Henna My Heart, Jaskirat sells Indian body art at various charity and sporting events to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Jaskirat was selected for the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State, a program that teaches students about government while developing leadership skills. She was selected for the Gallo Early Start Leadership Program, wherein she was mentored by a Gallo executive on leadership and business. She is a full International Baccalaureate candidate and works weekends at her family’s convenience store. Jaskirat plays volleyball and runs cross country for her school.
Naomi Garrett, Downey High School
↑Naomi serves her church by participating in its vacation Bible school and as an altar server, Eucharist minister and choir member. She has helped organize a food drive for the animal shelter, participated in a cookie drive to benefit the Children’s Crisis Center, helped teach religious education classes, created hygiene care packages for the homeless and designed activities to promote self-esteem for children living in homeless shelters.
Naomi participates in swimming, basketball and volleyball, where she was named captain. She serves as ASB president and the yearbook editor-in-chief and is a member of Renaissance Club and California Scholarship Federation. She is working to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.
Cambry Hastings, Enochs High School
↑Cambry volunteers with Camp Taylor, which serves children with life-threatening heart defects. She recently volunteered with the Empire Community Pool Brunch, which raised money for the Stanislaus Police Activities League and co-chaired the 2013 Christmas Toy Drive for Stanislaus CASA.
Cambry plays golf, participates in competitive cheer, stand-up paddling and equestrian sports and is a student of the Dance Academy.
Melissa Howard, Davis High School
↑Melissa has spent nearly every vacation helping others. She is active in her church and serves on missions to Mexico annually. She also enjoys peer-tutoring for drama courses and helps students as they rehearse lines, develop characters, learn to use computers and complete their assignments.
Melissa is a recipient of the student of the month award and the Spartan Award, given by faculty to a student who exhibits excellence. She participates in California Scholarship Federation, Academic Decathlon, Mock Trial, drama productions and tennis.
Alex Luna, Modesto High School
↑Alex was devastated when his brother Andrew suffered a traumatic injury, resulting in a four-month coma. Alex’s grades suffered as he helped his brother through rehabilitation. Inspired by Andrew’s daily struggles to improve, Alex decided to show greater responsibility for his own life by rededicating himself to academics, athletics and community service.
Alex participates in a leadership group that helps incoming freshmen adjust to high school. He also volunteers with Cooking for a Cause and is a member of the Junior Council with First Tee clinics. He also plays on the Modesto High golf team.
Miranda Mendoza, Modesto High School
↑Miranda volunteers with the Society for Disabilities. She is a member of Project Hope and Panthers for Special Needs. In her spare time, Miranda helps clean and maintain the house of an elderly woman.
Miranda is a full International Baccalaureate candidate. She plays water polo and softball and runs track. She has been a member of the yearbook staff for two years.
Krupa Modi, Modesto High School
↑Krupa volunteers with Care-ousel Therapeutic Horseback Riding and the Society for Disabilities. She recently earned the President’s Volunteer Service Award for completing more than 100 service hours in a year. As part of a project to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award, Krupa organized and managed a Community Service Faire at Modesto High, which was attended by more than 25 organizations and more than 250 students.
A full International Baccalaureate candidate, she serves as the ASB president and participates on the swim team and in numerous clubs, including PHAST, Project Hope and People Project.
Nicole Parhizgari, Modesto High School
↑Nicole baby-sits for Families for Vocation and Healing Ministries, a faith-based organization that advocates on behalf of underserved populations. She also writes poetry for the City of Hope Cancer Hospital newsletter in Los Angeles.
Nicole is a full International Baccalaureate candidate and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the AVID Write-Off Award. She participates in volleyball and tennis for her school. She has served as the school’s newspaper editor and is involved in several clubs, including PHAST, Project Hope and Panthers for a Cure. Nicole also enjoys playing the piano.
Maya Raj, Modesto High School
Maya serves as an attorney in Youth Court, a program that offers teens who have committed misdemeanors a chance to be tried by a jury of their peers. Toys for Autism, co-founded by Maya, recently was established to provide sensory gifts to autistic children and enhance autism awareness in her community. She also volunteers at Doctors Medical Center.
Maya is a full International Baccalaureate candidate and participates in clubs and activities including Modesto High’s swim and diving teams, cheerleading, Students Offering Service, Panthers for Special Needs and Link Crew. She also serves as publicity manager for the FIDM Fashion Club. Maya has won awards including being named Distinguished Young Woman of Modesto. She later was fourth alternate to the Distinguished Young Woman of California. She holds two MVP awards in cheerleading and is a former winner of Academic Decathlon.
Megan Robertson, Enochs High School
↑Not many people with scoliosis are able to compete in sports, but not many people love swimming more than Megan. She is currently unable to compete but continues to practice with the Enochs Eagles swim team.
Megan is a Girl Scout and participates in summer camps and retreats with the program. She serves as activities coordinator for the Enochs High ASB and as a peer mediator on campus. In 2014, she was selected to attend the Rotary Youth Leadership Academy Camp. As part of leadership at her school, Megan attended CORE leadership camps.
She is a singer and self-taught guitar player and has completed three years with the Valley Music Institute. She performs with several bands and is a two-time winner of “Enochs Idol.”
Emmanuel Rodrigues, Central Catholic High School
↑When not serving as a translator for his family, “Manny” is working to earn scholarships to continue attending Central Catholic High School.
In addition to volunteering for a host of clubs and activities at Central Catholic, Manny is very involved in his parish. He plays in the LifeTeen Band and is a lector for the Spanish Masses at St. Stanislaus Church. He also helps with the Charismatic Renewal retreats and is a peer minister for the youth group.
Manny participates on the Central Catholic football, wrestling and track-and-field teams. He has attended World Youth Days in both Spain and Brazil.
Christopher Schopp, Downey High School
↑Christopher has endured many personal challenges, including the loss of his brother. He participates often in blood drives for Delta Blood Bank and donates his time to assist community members with work around their homes, including working with horses and general physical labor. He also has donated many volunteer hours to his church.
Chris was awarded the Knight’s Achievement Award for his outstanding character and qualities. He hopes to join the armed services and is training daily to meet this goal.
Madeleine Souza, Downey High School
↑Madeleine is a longtime Girl Scout. She annually attends and helps manage camps and retreats for the organization. Along with other Scouts, she has performed numerous charitable activities, such as making blankets for homeless shelters and creating care packages for deployed military personnel.
Madeleine has been a member of California Scholarship Federation and associated student body leadership for all four years of high school. She serves in Pura Vida, an autism awareness club, and participates in varsity soccer, cross country and tennis. She also qualified for Academic Renaissance all four years and was given the Coach’s Award for her leadership and character.
Sakander Sultan, Modesto High School
↑Sakander is a member of several school activities and clubs, including Project Hope and PHAST, and volunteers regularly at the Modesto Library. He is a member of AVID and has obtained his certificate of achievement for proficiency in the English language.
Sakander is a full International Baccalaureate candidate. He participates in Tennis Project, Slope Club and Boys Volleyball Club and has received several athletic awards. He speaks multiple languages, including English, Urdu, Arabic, Spanish and Farsi. He is a member of the Entrepreneur Business Club, has worked at the Islamic Center and once volunteered with the Michael Eggman for Congress campaign.
Susana Tejeda, Downey High School
↑As the only fluent English speaker in her household, Susana serves as translator, diplomat and mediator for all family affairs.
At school, she is treasurer for Key Club International, vice president of the Environmental Club and president of the Hispanic Youth Leadership Council. She acts as an assistant coach for a citywide youth soccer league and has donated more than 300 hours of community service.
Susana recently earned the Seal of Multilingual Proficiency for English and Spanish, officially obtaining the title “bilingual” and affording her the ability to work as an interpreter. She participates in College Club and FFA and enjoys playing competitive soccer.
Taylor Thatcher, Beyer High School
↑Recently, one of Taylor’s family members was diagnosed with a severe illness. Faced with numerous life changes, Taylor accepted the many new responsibilities that befell her.
In the little free time she has, she enjoys club soccer and horseback riding. She has a passion for animals and recently raised a goat for her summer FFA project at the county fair. She serves on Beyer’s Student Leadership Team. Although she had considered a life of service helping animals, her recent experiences have shifted her ambitions toward a career in nursing.
Angela Villa, Enochs High School
↑Angela is a member of her church’s worship team, singing every Sunday during the Spanish service. She has served on two missions to Vincent Guerrero, Mexico, where she helped to build and repair a church. She also participates in the Nineveh Outreach program, which collects and provides food to those in need. At school, Angela is a member of the Hispanic Youth Leadership Council, helping to organize park cleanups and other community service activities. She also co-founded the “I matter, you matter” Club, which volunteers at local soup kitchens.
Angela is currently pursuing her SEAL certification, which officially establishes individuals as bilingual. She is in the Renaissance Club for her academic achievement. Angela participates in the Forensic Biotech Academy Club, the Eagles for Christ Club and the choir program.
Kim Vu, Modesto High School
↑Kim has completed a staggering 600 hours of volunteer service over a period of four years with Doctors Medical Center, more than seven years at Our Lady of Fatima, and many more service hours with Modesto High’s Key Club, Habitat for Humanity, Church in the Park, Project Eliminate, UNICEF, Making Strides for Breast Cancer, Modesto Grand Prix, Project Hope Club, Color the Skies and tutoring.
Kim is a full International Baccalaureate candidate, participated in the Math Super Bowl and is a member of California Scholarship Federation, the gymnastics team and the volleyball team, where she was awarded best defensive player. She recently was recognized as a distinctive treasurer for Key Club International. She also played in the second-string violin section of the Stanislaus County Honor Orchestra.
Amira Wheeler, Modesto High School
↑Amira volunteers with the Society for Disabilities and serves as a summer counselor for a special-needs camp. She is president of the Students Offering Service Club, has helped raise over $1,000 for a local food bank and recently volunteered at a local hospice center and at Sierra Vista Child and Family Services. She is attempting to establish a mentoring program between Modesto High’s International Baccalaureate program and Sonoma Elementary. She also assists with the Modesto Marathon, breast cancer awareness and local school festivals.
Amira is a full International Baccalaureate candidate and participates on the speech and debate teams. She is a member of the Academic Decathlon and Project Hope and is vice president of Panthers for Special Needs.
William Zamora, Modesto High School
↑William is heavily involved with his community church, sometimes attending more than three times a week. He helps with yard sales, bake sales and car washes, which benefit the church and its causes.
As a long-term member of AVID, William has taken many steps to invest in himself and his education. He continues to challenge himself with college prep courses, including AP and International Baccalaureate curricula. He is involved with TRIO Educational Talent Search, attending several workshops, tutorial sessions, and college field trips. He enjoys competitive football, wrestling and soccer.
Jennifer Zhou, Modesto High School
↑Jennifer volunteers for a local hospital, where her recent efforts have identified ways to increase workplace efficiency and safety. She also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and Project Hope.
A passionate reader, she enjoys learning about and discussing world issues and solutions.
Jennifer served as goalie for the Modesto High water polo team, which earned a co-championship. She also sits on the Speech Team and “Black Hole,” a club that promotes school spirit.
A member of the rigorous International Baccalaureate program, Jennifer hopes one day to become a trauma surgeon.