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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: Celebrating the Best and Brightest Academic Achievement

With graduation on the horizon, May is a good time to reflect on a few of our best and brightest students. In my three decades as an educator, I’ve realized that the best students shine a little brighter than those who went before. This is evolution. Ranked at the top of the class this year are Amaris L’Heureux, Daniel Lieben, and Hendrik Telfer, graduates who inspire confidence and hope.

Amaris L’Heureux is new to Ukiah, having joined our community as a junior. Her father’s work, including service as an Army physician, resulted in many moves. She’s attended ten schools in six states. She started high school at one of the most reputable high schools in Florida, then arrived at Ukiah High with a grade point average (GPA) above 4.0, having completed a host of honors classes including pre-calculus and chemistry. Amaris is committed, thoughtful, reflective, and humble. She immediately engaged UHS on all fronts--academics, athletics, and the arts. As a junior, she enrolled in five Advanced Placement college-level courses. She’s finishing high school with a GPA above 4.5, passing ten A.P. exams and notching near-perfect SAT scores. She competed on the varsity cross-country team, established a voice in journalism, and played center stage with our string orchestra. While she’s taken two years of calculus and excels in science, her long-term interests lean toward the arts and film production. When I asked her where Ukiah High stacks up among the ten schools she attended, she said we were number one! Amaris credits her relationships with UHS teachers. She elaborates that the willingness of our teachers to engage as partners in learning is unlike any other school she’s attended. This observation captures the spirit of Amaris, defining personal excellence while conveying an admirable sense of humility. She will attend the University of California at Berkeley in the fall.

Daniel Lieben will graduate with a 4.5 GPA, having earned college credit by completing online courses and having passed exams in nine A.P. classes. During his high school career, Daniel ran track and cross-country and played two years of football. He also successfully pioneered the Wildcat robotics program. For the second year in a row, his team will compete in the U.S. Navy’s underwater robotics national championship. This problem-solving effort captures the creative, robust thought Lieben offers the world. He thinks differently. Lieben is also driven in a linear fashion. Step one, work relentlessly in high school. Step two, attend Northeastern University in Boston to study mechanical engineering and physics. Step three, be entrepreneurial, creating or working for a start-up to progress humanity. And potentially step four, go to Mars.  A visionary, Daniel is goal-oriented.  With a history of demonstrated achievement and a relentless work ethic, he has the confidence to attend to the details.  The combination of attributes Daniel possesses adds to my confidence in this generation’s readiness to carry us forward.

Our third and final achiever is Hendrik Telfer, a peaceful scholar. Like Amaris and Daniel, his record is impeccable. He too will graduate with a GPA near 4.5, completing eight A.P. classes and passing as many A.P. exams. Remarkably, he’s posted perfect scores on all A.P. tests to date. He too plays in our string orchestra and is a varsity runner on our cross-country and track teams. Hendrik is wonderfully engaging, genuinely curious, and humble when speaking about learning. While doing well requires work, hours every night, his expressions and words say, “Why wouldn’t I do that?” The authenticity of the sentiment comes to light when he speaks of visiting his college choice, U.C. San Diego. Desiring to study structural engineering, his eyes light up when describing the UCSD project-based learning program in this field. While pursuing the most demanding academic courses, Telfer has busied himself in the world of production.  He’s a member of multiple competitive robotics teams, has completed coursework in computer-assisted design, mastered the operation of 3D printers to create prototype vehicles, and competed for the boat race championship in physics. He’s also interned at the industrial manufacturer Retech. In all endeavors, and looking to the future, Telfer presents a pure and positive attitude, expressing the contagious spirit that all of this is fun, adventurous, and normal.

In the end, it’s a joy to celebrate these students. The internal drive each offers is admirable. They share the view that embracing their natural academic skills is normal. Most compelling is that these students are unflinching in their view that we have an obligation to use our natural skills in service of progress for the greater world.