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Mary Bullwinkel

Beacon Correspondent

The students receiving the 2013 High Climber awards have tackled each and every challenge in their lives with the commitment to succeed. The following Humboldt and Del Norte County students were recognized at the 46th Annual High Climbers Award luncheon, held at the Red Lion Inn in Eureka, and each was presented with a laser-engraved redwood plaque.

Selena Gray (Arcata High School): Selena Gray was selected as High Climber by Arcata High School because of her continued focus on education while overcoming personal obstacles. She has taken a rigorous academic program including five advanced placement courses and maintained a 3.96 cumulative GPA. She is planning to attend San Francisco State University and pursue a major in engineering.

Gray also worked as an office aide at Arcata High School, where she was always punctual, professional, personable, responsible, and willing to do whatever was asked of her.

Willow Rodgers (Del Norte High School): Del Norte High School counselors selected Willow Rodgers as their High Climber because of her tenacity, work ethic, and generous spirit. She has set academic and personal goals and has steadily met and exceeded her expectations. She plans to attend College of the redwoods and then transfer to Chico State and major in Social Work.

She has chosen that field because of interest and her ability to relate to children and families in crisis. She participates in “Daily Bread Ministries,” and volunteers with her family at the homeless shelter. In addition, she has learned sign language to better communicate with family members.

Reanna Hanna (East High School): East High School High Climber Reanna Hanna has lived a transient lifestyle during most of her life and has struggled in school with a variety of health issues and learning disabilities. At the beginning of her junior year, she was half a semester behind in credits. She completed 83 credits last year and the remaining 58 credits this year and graduated from high school on April 30.

Hanna plans too attend Frederick and Charles Beauty School this fall, and her goal is to graduate with a cosmetology degree and ultimately open her own beauty salon.

Kabao Yang (Eureka High School): Seventeen-year-old Kabao Tina Yang is the High Climber from Eureka High School. She is part of the first generation in her family to attend school. “My first priority is to do my best and give school my all,” Yang said.

Yang's long-term goal is to open an art studio. She notes that the Hmong girls of her generation are caught in a collision course of old and new, the traditional roles that women play and the new course of being independent. Yang uses her artwork to try and navigate her future pathway. She hopes to create a weekend art program for youth in the community.

”I want to teach my community to move a step forward in their dreams,” she said.

Yang is one of 14 children of Vietnam Refugee parents. She has maintained a 3.78 GPA during her high school career, is ranked 25th and among the top 10 percent in her senior class. She is certified in the Hmong language and volunteers her skills for translation to the parents attending Multi-Cultural Family Night events at the school

Jacklyn Molett (Ferndale high School): Ferndale High Climber is Jacklyn Molett endured family problems, becoming independent at a very young age.

”Many students that face these types of difficulties let their studies fall but Jacklyn did not let that happen,” said Ferndale High School Counselor Lydia DeZordo. She will graduate from Ferndale High School this month with a 2.96 GPA. She has participated in volleyball, and basketball during her high school career, but her favorite sport is track.

”All I want to do is be successful,” a determined Molett said. “I am struggling financially and emotionally and I know the only way out is a higher education.” She plans to attend College of the Redwood to complete her general education and then transfer to a four-year university with a possible major in the sciences. 

”She is the definition of resiliency,” DeZordo said, “and deserves this recognition for her ability to rise and pursue her dreams.”

Elba Cabrera (Fortuna Union High School): Fortuna High Climber Elba Cabrera is an intelligent, hard working and grounded young woman. She has taken and succeeded in the most rigorous classes at Fortuna High, earning a 4.2 GPA which places her 16th in her class.

Elba learned English as her second language and is one of four Fortuna High School students this year to be eligible for the State Seal of Biliteracy, an honor awarded to students who are proficient in two languages.

Very involved in campus activities and the community, Cabrera is a member of the Fortuna Creeks Project, active in MECha, the Chicano student club on campus, has served at a public Thanksgiving dinner, wrapped and distributed Christmas gifts to the less fortunate and is part of the campus Link Crew, working to create a safe and supportive environment for all students at school.

Elba will be the first of her family to pursue a college education. She is enthusiastic about going to college and pursuing a meaningful career.

Priscilla Masten (Hoopa Valley High School): Priscilla Masten is ranked 8th in her class, and holds a 3.29 GPA throughout her high school career. She is currently senior class treasurer and participates in Bible Club. She enjoys doing art and participating in sports. She has played volleyball and track all four years of high school and is ranked 2nd in H-DN and 1st in NCS class A for shot put and discus. She hopes to continue her track and field career at Humboldt State University.

John Guffie (McKinleyville High School): Incredibly modest, intelligent, unassuming, talented and hardworking. Those are the terms used to describe McKinleyville High School High Climber John Guffie.

He is an excellent student athlete, in the top 15 percent of his senior class, a full IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma candidate and often selected as team captain for football, basketball, and baseball. He earned these accolades in spite of domestic instability, and to facilitate high school success, has split his time between his parents in Orick and his grandparents in McKinleyville. This has given him an increased emphasis on academic and athletic endeavors.

This year Guffie has taken six college-level IB classes and will be the first student to be a three-season athlete, a feat considered impossible until now.

He will be going to Sacramento State University this fall and plans on playing football and baseball while studying to become an anesthesiologist.

”We know he will continue to scale his mountains, living up to the title of High Climber for years to come,” McKinleyville High School IB English teacher Anne Sahlberg said.

Levi Matias (St. Bernard's Catholic High School): Levi Matias has attended St. Bernard's from the very beginning. He enrolled there for kindergarten. Matias was diagnosed autistic at age 4. His inability to communicate properly and the feeling of being different was a constant struggle, however he had a supportive family, especially big brother Mailk. Matias was told about his autism when he was 12 or 13. Not long after that, through listening to music, he taught himself how to play guitar and music and the guitar have served as his outlet ever since. He will perform a guitar solo at graduation.

He has also developed the ability to write songs, music and poetry; has a 3.0 GPA and will enroll in West Hills Community College in the fall with the ultimate goal of receiving a degree in music from Sonoma State University.

”We are proud to celebrate (Levi's) accomplishments and acknowledge the obstacles he's overcome while recognizing those special people in his life that have helped him on his journey,” St. Bernard's High School Principal David Sharp said. “We have all been helped by Levi in our own journeys through life with the inspiration he gives us.”

Conan Johnson (South Fork High School): Conan Johnson was selected as the High Climber from South Fork High School in Miranda. He has been balancing work and school since he was 14 years old. He and his family discovered 10 years ago that he had a learning disability. He is also a caregiver for his mother.

Johnson earned a 3.40 GPA the first semester of his senior year and will be graduating this month. He has been working with the Bureau of Land Management program Nick's Interns as a crew leader and is currently looking to join the California Conservation Corps. After working for the CCC, Johnson plans on going to college, getting a degree in forestry, and eventually working for the California State Parks Department.

Photo by Mary Bullwinkel/Beacon

2013 High Climber Award winners: Back row (l-r) Levi Matias (St. Bernard's High School), John Guffie (McKinleyville High School), and Conan Johnson (South Fork High School). Front row (l-r) Elba Cabrera (Fortuna High School), Reanna Hanna (East High School), Willow Rodgers (Hoopa Valley High School), Selena Gray (Arcata High School), Kabao Yang (Eureka High School), Jacklyn Molett (Ferndale High School) and Priscilla Masten (Hoopa Valley High School).