Never tell them the odds. Stanislaus students saluted for perseverance.

Twenty-three students from across Stanislaus County were saluted Tuesday morning in downtown Modesto for overcoming major challenges and/or succeeding beyond expectations.

The honorees at the 14th annual Every Student Succeeding awards breakfast, ranging from a kindergartner to several high school seniors, included youth dealing with serious illness or injury; addicted, incarcerated, deceased or absent parents; poverty; and more. The program partners are the Stanislaus County Office of Education and the local chapter of the Association of California School Administrators.

A sampling of those recognized:

  • Pitman High School senior Cynthia Bermudez suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle crash several years back, which left her unable to walk or talk, and with very limited mobility on the left side of her body. The Turlock student uses assistive technology to speak but can say a few words on her own. She now can walk at least 75 feet and is working to make it to 100.
  • Savage Middle School seventh-grader Jacob Hankins has been diagnosed with two cancerous tumors in different lobes of his brain. His mother fought thyroid cancer, and his sister just completed her own cancer treatments. Jacob’s treatment still is being discussed by doctors at a few hospitals, but he’s already begun chemotherapy. Through all of this, his nominator said, he is shy, goofy, upbeat, optimistic and working to keep up his grades.

  • Standiford Elementary School fifth-grader Robbie Jackson lost her mother while she was in third grade. Her father died before she was born. Robbie lives with her aunt and her aunt’s nine children. Her nominator said Robbie is loving and generous and puts the needs of other students ahead of her own. She has embraced the Leader in Me and the 8 Habits of Successful Kids programs at her school.

From among the 23 honorees, one was selected to represent the county at the regional level of Every Student Succeeding. The student, senior Ashly Breeding of the Stanislaus Military Academy, an alternative-education program of SCOE, also received a $500 scholarship from ACSA Stanislaus charter.

Read the full remarks made about each student

As a fourth-grader, Ashly took care of her drug-addicted and alcoholic mother, SCOE Assistant Superintendent Susan Rich told the awards breakfast audience at the Petersen Event Center. “That year, her mother OD’d twice, and after Ashly was suspended and assigned to repeat the fourth grade, her mother shaved her head and sent her back to school to deal with the shame,” Rich said.

Within a short time frame, Ashly’s father filed for sole custody, her mother fatally overdosed, and her grandmother died. Ultimately, Ashly ended up in Military Academy Principal Daniel Vannest’s office, asking — almost insisting — to be admitted and saying she really wanted a chance at being a “normal” kid.

“That’s really what got me,” Vannest said Tuesday of Ashly’s commitment to overcoming all the difficulty of her past and living a normal life.

Factors including acute eczema and chronic asthma didn’t make the girl seem a viable cadet, Rich said, but Vannest took a chance on her. Ashly took full advantage of the opportunities afforded by the school and is on track to graduate, Rich said, praising the young woman for “not choosing the role of victim, but holding fast to the role of victor.”

A committee composed mostly of retired ACSA administrators chose Ashly as the regional nominee for Every Student Succeeding. Because Ashly is 18, educators have been able to watch her over the long journey of her life, Rich said, and were impressed by the physical and emotional issues she’s dramatically overcome.

Now, Ashly is doing independent study through SMA, working two jobs and taking Modesto Junior College classes. She wants to become an EMT/firefighter, she said.

“Right now, I’m working at my first-responder/EMT class,” she said after Tuesday’s awards breakfast. “It’s hard, but I’m working … I wanna be more than what everybody else thinks I’m gonna turn out to be.”

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.