Participating in a ceremony far more efficient and heartfelt than the Oscars or the Emmys, 56 students from the and school districts were honored Wednesday night for their achievements in career-oriented classes.
The occasion was the Distinguished Student Recognition Awards ceremony, the location was the tony theater at , and the presenter was the Capistrano-Laguna Regional Occupational Program.
“If it wasn’t for [ROP instructor Dr. David Foster], I would have no idea I would want to become a physical therapist,” said Emily Writer, a Laguna Beach High School student taking Sports Medicine II.
About 4,500 students in the Capistrano and Laguna Beach school districts take ROP classes, for everything from dance performance and careers in fashion to medical terminology and American Sign Language. Fifty-three high school students and three adult ROP students were named finalists, and 20 received awards in 17 categories.
Writer won the Distinguished Student of the Year award from Laguna Beach Unified. While she plans to go onto to college and major in kinesiology, Writer is .
Each school nominated students for the various categories. Those students then went before a selection committee for interviews, said Suzie Speirs, a career guidance counselor at who also teaches a retail careers class.
“You truly are the best of the best,” said Speirs, who acted as co-emcee with Evan Pinto, who teaches restaurant-industry classes at and high schools.
San Juan Hills High Principal Tom Ressler called the occasion bittersweet because the ceremony marks the first of several that count down the end of the school year.
ROP Superintendent Kim Thomason said that ROP classes improve students’ grade-point averages and that ROP students feel more connected to their education and perform better in college and careers after high school. They are students “who are passionate about their education and their future careers.”
Rachelle Bieser was obviously one of those. The senior was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and won the FIDM Scholarship award. Bieser learned to sew at age 11 and by 14 was apprenticing with a tailor.
“I want to thank ROP so much,” Bieser said. “ROP has just been amazing. It has really solidified my choice to be a fashion designer, and I got to help others as well.”
Many of the teachers were on hand to say a few words about their high-achieving students. “Seth is the type of student who does things right even when no one else is looking,” Dave Dattola, who teaches law enforcement classes, said of student Seth Stewart.
Marla South, who teaches fashion and design classes, said San Juan Hills student Jose Berber “represents an awesome teenager, which is what the community should be talking about.” Berber won the Most Inspirational Student Award for his retail careers class.
South, who was choked up, said Berber is always asking how he can help and if he can help carry things for her. “He’s an all-around—I’m getting emotional—he’s an awesome kid.”
Just as television networks keep track of their Emmys, here’s the rundown on how the local high schools represented: With five awards, San Juan Hills High students earned the most awards. There was a three-way tie with three awards apiece for Aliso Niguel, Capo Valley and San Clemente. Laguna Beach took home two awards, and Dana Hills and Tesoro each had one winner.
Here is the complete list of awards:
- Dr. K. Turner Heart for Students Award, named after a nine-year board member who died six years ago, to Cody Nord of San Juan Hills High for Dance Performance I
- Barbara Laird Memorial Award, named after a career counselor at Laguna Beach and San Clemente highs who died in 2008, to Seth Stewart of Aliso Niguel High for Law Enforcement
- Entrepreneurial Spirit Award to Cody Alter of Laguna Beach High for Silk Screening/Production Art
- Most Inspirational Student Award to Jose Berber of San Juan Hills High for Retail Careers
- FIDM Scholarship Award to Rachelle Bieser of San Clemente High for Fashion & Design
- Kaiser Permanente Scholarship Award to Brisna Rios of Aliso Niguel High for Medical Terminology
- Career Pathway Award in Arts & Design to Nicole Tague of Capo Valley High for Flore Design & Sales I
- Career Pathways Award in Business & Marketing to Zain Tobal of Aliso Niguel High for Careers in Fashion II
- Career Pathways Award in Health Sciences to Kellie Ringler of San Juan Hills High School in Medical Terminology
- Career Pathways Award in Public Service to Brianna Lazatin of for Careers in Teaching I
- Career Pathways Award in Science and Applied Technology to Jordan Hulka of Capo Valley for Construction Technology
- Orange County ROP Chapter Award to Samantha Hansen of San Clemente High for International Baccalaureate Dance 2 and to Zackary Harkins of Capo Valley High for Automotive Specialist, Advanced
- Distinguished Service Award to Janelle Slater of San Juan Hills High for Health Careers
- Special Achievement Award to Mackenzie Nelson of San Clemente High for International Baccalaureate Dance 2; Lindsey Wells of Capo Valley High for Law Enforcement; and Sarah Wilson of Dana Hills High for Digital Video Production
- Adult Student of the Year to Tracie Raby for Dental Assistant I: Business Administration
- Distinguished Student of the Year from Laguna Beach Unified to Emily Writer for Sports Medicine II
- Distinguished Student of the Year from Capistrano Unified to Darian Didier of San Juan Hills High for Careers in Fashion I