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State Board of Education Recognizes Texas’s 2021 Student Heroes 

AUSTIN, Texas - July 20, 2021 - Organizing a livestock show for kids with special needs, creating and hosting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) literacy camps and webinars, showcasing artwork to raise funds for sensory classroom equipment, publishing a book to encourage perseverance and discipline, and creating “Kindness Projects” that impacted more than 50,000 people are just some of the ways the students selected to receive the State Board of Education’s (SBOE’s) Student Heroes Award helped their classmates and communities this year.

Begun in 2015, the Student Heroes Award recognizes public school students who voluntarily perform acts of kindness. This year’s recipients range from fourth-grade students to high school seniors.

“The Student Heroes Award is always a challenge to award because of all the great stories we receive of those who have made a difference in the lives of their fellow classmates. When I hear of all these acts of kindness, I am so encouraged about the future of Texas and I know we will be in good hands.  I commend each and every student who performs acts of kindness towards others. It is an honor to recognize them with this award,” said SBOE Chair Keven Ellis.    

The students were presented with a plaque and a medallion during events at their schools. The board approved a resolution in their honor during the general meeting of the SBOE in Austin on June 25, 2021.

Below are the stories of the 2021 Student Heroes:

District 1: Award recipient Arianna Suniga presented by SBOE member Georgina Pérez
Arianna Suniga, a senior at Medina Valley High School in Medina Valley Independent School District (ISD), has been a role-model for other students and community. For the past five years, she has volunteered at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. She has demonstrated outstanding leadership by organizing a canned food drive and collecting over 600 non-perishable food items for local families during Thanksgiving. She assisted her fellow classmates with their service projects, including a toy drive for Christmas and collecting donations for Valentine’s cookies for a local nursing home. 

District 2: Award recipient Julia Gilliam presented by SBOE member Ruben Cortez, Jr. 
Julia Gilliam, a junior at Flour Bluff High School in Flour Bluff ISD, has a passion for helping others. She organized sustainable projects that included a school tour with special needs kids, recruiting volunteers from 4H clubs, and raising funds were her first steps. The connections she observed with  special needs kids during the school tour gave her the inspiration to organize the Nueces County Junior Livestock All Star Show for kids with special needs. With much work and collaboration with Special Education teachers and her army of volunteers, Julia’s project was a great success with 43 registered exhibitors the first year and 53 exhibitors the second year. 

District 3: Award recipient Michael Frere presented by SBOE member Marisa Perez-Diaz 
Michael Frere, a junior at the International School of the Americas in North East ISD, launched his own Make It Happen project, that created arts and crafts opportunities for students in the San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries Homeless Shelter. His project gave the students in the shelter a way to socialize and engage in fun activities that immediately became a big hit. Michael is an inspiring leader on the Student of Service (SOS) organization, and is a part of the SOS Student Advisory Council that provides the opportunity for greater student direction of SOS service and travel activities. He was chosen to be a part of a group of Student Ambassadors to represent San Antonio in Germany. 

District 5: Award recipient Paridhi (Pari) Latawa presented by SBOE member Rebecca Bell-Metereau
Paridhi Latawa, a junior at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School in Austin ISD, is the founder and executive director of SparkEd, a student-led non-profit organization with a mission to educate, empower, and enable youth to make informed decisions about their career and life. SparkEd hosts STEM literacy camps, webinars, and mentoring opportunities. From webinars and events, SparkEd has grown into a global initiative empowering youth changemakers. With a team of 20 volunteers, Paridhi learned about the power of community and collaboration. Her organization has hosted several virtual talks and panel sessions by speakers and panelists with attendees from 14 different states in the US and 11 other countries. She has also been the recipient of the Daily Point of Light Award for her service work as well as the Million Women Mentors - Texas Stand Up for STEM Award for sharing skills through role modeling and inspiring others to pursue a STEM career.

District 7: Award recipient Byron Randon II presented by SBOE member Matt Robinson
A published author of a children’s book called, Be Something Great, Byron Randon II, a senior at Sweeney High School in Sweeney ISD, shares his story of perseverance through football while challenging kids to be great, encouraging them to not just play sports for fun, but also to apply their learning to develop discipline, teamwork, bravery, and hard work. From his book, Byron was able to spread his uplifting message locally and abroad through zoom webinars, and various media publications. Byon’s way of giving back to the youth of the community meant hosting holiday toy drive and book giveaways to encourage reading. During the first few months of the pandemic, Byron participated in a COVID-Kindness Campaign to display positive signs around the community and helped deliver meals to essential workers at the police and fire departments, the local hospital, and to other places with essential workers.

District 9: Award recipient Connelly Cowan presented by SBOE member Keven Ellis
Connelly Cowan, a junior at Mount Pleasant High School in Mount Pleasant ISD, attended a presentation about a medical mission team that had just returned from Guatemala when she was seven years old. After returning home, she started Connelly’s Classroom. Her goal was to collect school supplies in lieu of birthday presents from her friends, and from donations collected at a local church.  Each August, for the last nine years, the donations have been counted, sorted, packed, and donated to Refuge International, a non-profit organization in Longview. 
District 10: Award recipient Aubrey Hollingsworth presented by SBOE member Tom Maynard
Aubrey Hollingsworth, a sophomore at Hutto High School in Hutto ISD, has been a Leo Charter Club member since middle school. She has a heart for service and has helped lead the 2020 food collection and distribution project sponsored by the student-run Leo Club. She took on the challenge and spent countless hours planning to make the food distribution as seamless as possible. With health restrictions due to the pandemic, through careful planning and collaboration with other volunteers, the project served 508 families with turkey and full dinner, and toys for the children. Aubrey also led the District Leos in raising $1,217 for the Austin Sunshine Kids organization. 

District 11: Award recipient Brock Burgan presented by SBOE member Pat Hardy
An extraordinary young community servant, Brock Burgan, a junior at Lawrence Dale Bell High School in Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD, has volunteered weekly for the past two years as a Trendsetter mentor focused on improving the reading skills of elementary children within the district. He volunteers at the local public library and iss working to start a neighborhood library in his subdivision. In addition to mentoring, he helps at organizations that benefit youth and families. While helping at various organizations, he realized that a pair of socks was the most needed item at shelters, he acted and founded the Brox Sox that is geared towards collecting and donating socks. With donations from family and friends, he was able to send 156 pairs to the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Clothes Closet. With a passion for service, on his 16th birthday, Brock chose to sponsor a food drive for the Tarrant Area Food Bank. His food campaign helped raise about $1500 which provided over 6000 meals. 

District 12: Award recipient Pranavi Reddi presented by SBOE member Pam Little
The founder of the non-profit organization known as Kindness4All, Pranavi Reddi, a junior at Centennial High School in Frisco ISD, is a catalyst for true change. Her life’s mission is to make a positive difference in the life of another person. To achieve this mission, each week, she conducts 3 different “Kindness Projects” that people of all ages can participate in such as origami flowers for nursing homes, thank you cards for local firefighters, or making encouraging bookmarks for local elementary schools. In just over a year in operation, Kindness4All has raised $50,000 in monetary and in-kind donations. From the donations, about $30,000 was used to purchase Disney books for 10 economically disadvantaged schools in Texas, and more than $800 was given as gift cards to teachers as a token for their service. She raised funds in her own community and donated $400 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s awareness programs. In addition, she has worked to create over 100 goody bags for local vaccine workers and 300 “Kindness Packs” for children in the hospital. Pranavi’s efforts are making a positive difference in the lives of many not just in her own community but beyond.

District 13: Award recipient Zahria Griggs presented by SBOE member Aicha Davis
Zahria Griggs, a senior at Harmony School of Excellence in Dallas, is a genuine helper in school activities such as pep rallies, Black History Month programs, homecoming activities, middle school dance, winter fest, as student speaker about dual credit programs, and during information session with the Dallas Police Department. Griggs also volunteers at her church while maintaining a rigorous classwork being the first at her school to graduate with an associate degree. Her accomplishments include mentoring others about dual credit programs and during the pandemic helped her counselors navigate the zoom platform to give fellow students helpful tips and advice. As a school leader, she helped establish new programs that benefit the school and students.

District 14: Award recipient Romella Spitzer presented by SBOE member Sue Melton-Malone
Romella Spitzer, a fourth-grade student at Williams/Lovett Ledger Elementary School in Copperas Cove ISD, led an art show that benefited the Copperas Cove ISD Special Education students. She ran a  lemonade stand that raised $233 for painting materials and organized an art show that showcased 28 autistic student’s artwork and biography. The event called Valentine’s Outing with All You Can Eat Chocolates was a sold-out one. Romella collaborated with the culinary arts students in the high school to provide the chocolates. The local HEB provided bottled water. The event raised almost $1900 that helped purchase sensory classroom equipment for the district and provided a community event that highlighted special education students’ artwork at the same time getting families to share a Valentine outing together.

District 15: Award recipient Ivy Pham presented by SBOE member Jay Johnson
Ivy Pham, a senior at Hirschi High School in Wichita Falls ISD, is a well-rounded leader with a servant’s heart who kept a challenging coursework while volunteering at local area hospitals and clinics as a translator for Vietnamese patients. She led her school’s Student Council and Key Club with innumerable volunteer activities all throughout the community. Outside of school, Ivy finds time to volunteer as a teaching assistant at her local church and organizing an online Sunday school during the pandemic so that students would not miss their classes and community time.