State Board of Education News

SBOE Student Heroes Award recognizes acts of kindness and compassion

AUSTIN – Though this is a time when the world’s attention is appropriately focused on ways to stop random acts of violence against our children at school, the State Board of Education today is honoring 15 public school students who have demonstrated inspiring acts of kindness and compassion.

The students range from a first-grade student to high school seniors. Their good deeds include blanket drives, raising funds to provide free chemotherapy treatments, and launching efforts to make sure no child eats lunch isolated and alone. 

These students are recipients of the 2018 Student Heroes Award. One recipient is selected per State Board district. Local ceremonies are being held to present the award to each student, who receives a plaque and certificate.

“This award reminds us that a good and caring nature most represents our Texas children. These award recipients saw a need and committed to bold action on behalf of others, often engaging their fellow classmates in the effort. They each in their own way have made a profound difference. Their schools and communities are better for their work,” said Donna Bahorich, chair of the State Board of Education.

Below are their stories.

District 1: Impacted by a suicide in her own family, Mayely Carrasco, a sophomore at Odessa High School in the Ector County Independent School District (ISD), wanted to make sure that no student struggled alone with depression. She created a suicide prevention group that meets weekly. The group provides support and encouragement to classmates. Carrasco also helped make a video to educate students and staff about teen suicide and provides informational material about community resources.

District 2: Horacio Garcia-Rojas, a junior at IDEA McAllen College Preparatory School, led an effort that resulted in the funding of 23,000 free chemotherapy treatments. He raised the funds through a program called “Caps for Chemo”. For every 1,000 bottle caps collected, a cancer patient is provided a free chemo treatment. During his sophomore and junior years, Garcia-Rojas collected 23 million caps.

District 3:  As part of a class assignment, Crystal Pacheco, a first-grade student at Monte Cristo Elementary School in Edinburg Consolidated ISD, was asked to write a letter containing her Christmas wishes. Pacheco asked for a ball for her brothers, food for the family, and a blanket for a brother who had been hospitalized. She asked for nothing for herself. Pacheco’s unselfish letter launched a blanket drive that ultimately raised more than 1,500 blankets, enough to provide two blankets to every child at her school. 

 District 4: Caleb Elam, a junior at Furr High School in Houston ISD, has a big heart that has led to his involvement with nearly a dozen community service projects. He’s helped feed homeless teenagers, tutored an elementary school student as well as high school students, organized games at the Boys and Girls Harbor, and served as a volunteer helper at Houston’s Children Museum, just to name a few of his activities.

District 5:  As a fifth-grade student, Samantha Sanchez was moved to make fleece blankets for homeless children. By seventh-grade, she founded a non-profit foundation called "Sam's Covers" to do this work on a bigger scale. Today, as a sophomore at Ronald Reagan High School in North East ISD, Sanchez and her foundation have delivered 1,600 blankets to those in need.  

District 6: Hannah Keller, a junior at Stratford High School in Spring Branch ISD, noticed that her school had a large number of refugees and she began stopping by an English as a Second Language class to help. She helped the students with their homework and organized outings to football games and school plays to help the new students get oriented to their American school. Keller has now created the One World Club that brings students together through projects such as potluck dinners, volunteering at a retirement home, and collecting Halloween costumes for young children.

District 7: Callie Jourdan, a senior at Port Neches-Groves High School in Port Neches ISD, is a long-time Red Cross volunteer who exhibited leadership and a calm demeanor as she helped staff the Port Arthur Civic Center, which served as a shelter after Hurricane Harvey hit the coast. She helped the evacuees get settled, played games with their children, served food, and helped in any way needed – often while standing in three feet of water as the shelter itself took on water. Jourdan also helped with the Home Fire Campaign, which was aimed at reducing fatalities during residential fires.

District 8: As a military dependent who moved frequently, Kathryn Fouch, now a sixth-grade student of Pecan Trail Intermediate School in College Station ISD, knows how hard it can be to make new friends. So she took it upon herself to create the No One Sits Alone Initiative that makes sure no student eats by himself or herself at lunch. This simple concept produces powerful outcomes that help all students feel included and appreciated. 

District 9: Damiano “D.J.” Sanders, a fifth-grade student at Raguet Elementary School in Nacogdoches ISD, takes care of others in need, whether it is carrying their books, giving them a pat on the back, or providing encouragement. His caring nature has allowed him to mentor other students and help them through difficult times.

District 10: As an eighth-grade student, Lance White, was diagnosed with cancer. The Make-A-Wish Foundation offered to make his dreams come true. Instead of wishing for a trip of a lifetime, White, now a junior at Cedar Park High School in Leander ISD, asked for help creating a charity and the Lift Brigade was born. The Lift Brigade provides support for pediatric cancer patients and their families.

District 11: Ella Pursley, a student at North Ridge Middle School in Birdville ISD; has provided more than 700 hours of community service over the past five years. She has worked with The Birthday Party Project to host more than 100 birthday parties for children living in homeless shelters. She has worked with The Miss Sweetheart Special Needs Pageant, assisting special-needs children back stage and then escorting them on stage. Pursley has also raised money for the Special Olympics.  

District 12: Braden Munn, a senior at Highland Park High School in Highland Park ISD, heads the school’s Community Service Council. He coordinates events and serves as an ambassador to the school, community and Parent Teacher Association. He has provided 150 hours of community service while in high school, serving as a camp counselor for freshman orientation, working at Vacation Bible School, and tutoring underclassmen in math.

District 13: Eghosa Egbenoma, a sophomore at James Bowie High School in Arlington ISD, has volunteered in every aspect of the DFW Metroplex Toys for Tots program for the past four years. He spends 80 hours a year or more on the project. It is estimated that more than 200,000 needy children have benefitted from Egbenoma’s work. 

District 14: While only a third-grade student, Blake Travis launched a toy drive to benefit children who were hospitalized during Christmas at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. The first year, Travis, who has been a patient at TSRHC himself, collected 1,000 toys. Now in 2018 as a fifth-grade student at Dagan Elementary School in Lewisville ISD, Travis collected more than 2,000 toys.

District 15: Tinsley Drake is a fourth-grade student at Jose S. Ramirez Elementary School in Lubbock ISD where she is already known as an activist. She handcrafts jewelry that she sells to raise funds to support Open Door, a charity that assists homeless people in her school’s neighborhood. She calls this project “Tinsley’s Hope.”  Through her Destination Imagination team, she has also raised nearly $2,000 for the Lubbock Make-A-Wish Foundation.


 For additional information, contact the State Board of Education Division at (512) 463-9007. Photographs of many of the recipients are available.