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State Board of Education recognizes 2023 Student Heroes

AUSTIN – June 30, 2023 – The State Board of Education (SBOE) is proud to recognize the 15 recipients of the 2023 Student Heroes Award. Honoring Texas public school students who voluntarily perform acts of kindness, this year’s recipients range from third graders to high school seniors. Each has displayed a heart for service and compassion for their peers, classmates, and communities. 

The students were presented with a plaque and a medallion during ceremonies at their respective schools. The board approved a resolution in their honor during the general meeting of the SBOE in Austin on June 23, 2023.

Learn more about the 2023 recipients below: 

District 1: Award recipient Manuel Ramirez nominated by Janis Mack
Manuel Ramirez, a junior at Medina Valley High School in Medina Valley Independent School District (ISD), is a leader in both his school and local community, where he organized numerous activities that served the elderly at a local nursing home and rehabilitation center. With the goal of creating more empathic students, Manny led the inaugural “Start with Hello” program that taught the student body the difference between social isolation and loneliness. He also led many other activities aimed at making a more inclusive environment for all students.

District 2: Award recipient Nathanael Gonzalez nominated by Isabel Gonzalez
Nathanael Gonzalez, a third-grade student at Flour Bluff Elementary in Flour Bluff ISD, inspired by his wish to donate his own Christmas gifts to kids in foster care, teamed up with CASA of the Coastal Bend and hosted a successful toy drive that collected more than 300 toys, sports equipment, and monetary donations. His endeavor expanded into the creation of Nate’s Next Kid Up, which hosts toy and sports equipment drives along with local businesses, social media, and local media outlets as his partners. 

District 3: Award recipient Cooper LaBuhn nominated by Amanda Fullilove
Cooper LaBuhn, a senior at Gonzales High School in Gonzales ISD, has over 300 hours of community service from gift-wrapping, volunteering in nursing homes, collecting and distributing food at the local food bank, assisting at the local dog shelter, supporting his fellow athletes at the Special Olympics, and assisting the Gonzales Little League for athletes with special needs. In addition, Cooper began L&J Boer Goats to support students that wish to participate in showing goats but do not have the financial resources to do so. Cooper attributes his heart for service to his desire to bring others joy and make a difference for his peers and his community.

District 4: Award recipient Hope Faith Wiggins nominated by Maxine Wiggins
Hope Faith Wiggins, a seventh-grade student at Texas Online Preparatory School (Huntsville ISD), has advocated for children’s literacy since the first grade. When she struggled to read, she challenged herself and set a goal to read hundreds of books each year. Sharing her journey on social media, Hope Faith inspired others to follow. Since then, she has donated hundreds of books, and her actions have impacted others academically through her incredible example of perseverance.

District 5: Award recipient Catherine Tu nominated by Zhemin Tu
Catherine Tu, a junior at Westlake High School in Westlake ISD, whose passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) led her to create organic lights which provided sustainable lighting and customizable message panels to homeless people, underprivileged children, elders, and frontline workers, her project received recognition from local and international volunteer organizations.

District 6: Award recipient Carsyn Collins nominated by Stacey Collins
Carsyn Collins, a sixth-grade student at Bear Branch Intermediate School in Magnolia ISD, desire to spread joy paid off when she created 500 craft kits to provide comfort and ease anxiety for patients and families at the Texas Children’s Hospital. For the past six years, her craft kit project was very successful that she expanded to other holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter.

District 7: Award recipient Ashlyn Gilchriest nominated by Jon Deckert
Ashlyn Gilchriest, a senior at Port Neches-Groves High School in Port Neches-Groves ISD, is an ideal student with a heart for service. Through the Life Skills Buddies program that Ashlyn helped organize and implement, special needs students feel included in all aspects of their student life. Her drive for inclusivity has made a difference in everyone’s attitude toward life skills students at her school community. The program’s success led Ashlyn to present the concept of Life Skills Buddies to thousands of student council members in her regional district.

District 8: Award recipient Alexandra Hamilton nominated by Josefina Alcala-Hamilton 
Alexandra Hamilton, a junior at William B. Travis High School in Fort Bend ISD, has helped Houston Helping Hands, a youth-led nonprofit group that teaches teens how to sign up to volunteer with nonprofit organizations using social media. With a heart for helping those with a disability, she was the first youth volunteer for Project Joy and Hope’s summer camp, where siblings of medically fragile children are supported. She also became a counselor to a camper with cerebral palsy in the Arc of Fort Bend’s Summer Pal Program and Easter Seals’ Camp Smiles. Alexandra founded her own organization, Youth in Politics, which amplifies youth voices, raises awareness of global and political issues, and provides interviews with local, state, and national leaders.

District 9: Award recipient Jordan Jones nominated by Ty Jones
Jordan Jones, a fifth-grade student at Rhodes Intermediate School in Forney ISD, was passionate about sharing her technological learning with her peers after attending a STEM program. She used funds from her magnet-making business to purchase and donate a 3D printer to her school’s 3D Modeling Club to fulfill her goal. Her donation funded a previously unfulfilled grant during a district’s Adopt-A-Grant program. Jordan also volunteers with Sharing the Love’s Youth Can program.

District 10: Award recipient V’Jae Brown nominated by Charlotte Heinze
V’Jae Brown is an exemplary junior at Killeen ISD’s Career Center, and his innumerable achievements and passion for learning have contributed much to his community. From advocating for streetlights in key areas of his middle school to organizing a recycling art contest by partnering with the city council members and other students in the Youth Advisory Committee, his dedication to sustainability and service has inspired others to make a tangible impact in his community.

District 11: Award recipient Cameron Taylor nominated by Lynda Foster
Cameron Taylor, a fourth-grade student at Tolar Elementary in Tolar ISD, has a heart for helping others and does not mind the Texas heat when selling lemonade to purchase toys for children in the hospital. While some boys are more consumed with the latest video game, “Cameron’s Lemonade for Kids” raised $600 to purchase coloring books, Legos, Rubik’s cubes, baby rattlers, and wooden puzzles for toddlers and delivered them to Cook Children’s Hospital and his efforts were well appreciated.

District 12: Award recipient Madhalasa Iyer nominated by Janani Iyer
Madhalasa Iyer, a senior at Plano Senior High in Plano ISD, designed a wearable airbag that alerts caregivers while cushioning the most fragile parts of a falling body. After presenting her research at the Harvard Club in NYC, her paper was accepted to the Journal of Young Explorers Meta. Madhalasa got the opportunity to use the award money to invest in manufacturing a more robust prototype wherein preventative, sustainable devices like hers could positively serve many. She also advocates for racial justice in her children’s book, Motley, which combats ignorance and apathy but promotes equity and inclusion.

District 13: Award recipient Taylor McCowan nominated by Sheila Christensen
Taylor McCowan, a senior at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Grand Prairie ISD, passion for helping girls and women inspired her to form her nonprofit, “The Confident Girl Project.” Intending to distribute 100 bags of feminine hygiene products to women in need, she exceeded that goal and has helped over 2,500 women in the community. Taylor was awarded the Go Fund Me Hero Award and has been featured for her work in the Dallas Morning News and various media outlets. She continues to spread awareness by speaking in secondary campuses, organizations, businesses, and colleges, and her nonprofit continues to expand throughout North Texas and beyond.

District 14: Award recipient Elise Fuselier nominated by Wendy Sledd
Elise Fuselier, a senior at Copperas Cove High School in Copperas Cove ISD, showed incredible leadership by organizing and hosting a pageant in conjunction with the city’s Christmas festival to raise money to start a “Blessings in a Backpack” program that provided weekend meals with dinner on Friday night and three meals on both Saturday and Sunday to every student in need at her former elementary school. The program was so successful and much needed that the school district chose to fund “Blessings in a Backpack” programs at all CCISD campuses. Towards the end of the school year, Elise launched a formalwear collection drive to ensure every student could attend prom with free formal gowns and suits.

District 15: Award recipient Lanie Salazar nominated by Lilia Romero
Lanie Salazar, a fifth-grade student at Fasken Elementary in Midland ISD, is a phenomenal person who wants to give back to her community through her lemonade stands and hot cocoa bars. She has raised funds to buy toys and gifts each year for Janet’s Closet, a toy closet for children at Midland Memorial Hospital where, at five years old, she experienced being given a toy as a patient. Lanie continues to inspire others with her spirit of generosity and empathy for the children at the hospital. She looks forward to making her toy donation bigger and better.