Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Solana Beach students earn 29th annual Vic Kops Children’s Challenge Awards
By Karen Billing
For the last 29 years, the Del Mar/Solana Beach Optimist Club has honored outstanding local students with its Children’s Challenge Awards. This year’s happy, inspirational ceremony was held at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club on May 18 with 10 honorees in six categories of fellowship, community service, arts, courage, humanities and science.
“This is truly as good as it gets,” said Susan Pfleeger, event co-chair.
Optimist Vic Kops created the awards 29 years ago as a way to find kids in a league of their own and encourage them by honoring them. The awards have carried on in his name since he died in 2007.
The children honored included five each from the Solana Beach and Del Mar Union School Districts.
The most emotional presentation was for courage award winner Isabella Hirst, a first-grader at Ashley Falls School. Isabella lives with a major congenital heart defect and had her third open heart surgery in November at the age of 6. Her mother Cynthia Edgerly said that she has faced life’s challenges at an early age with strength and optimism — before her surgery she bravely explained her condition to her classmates and was sweet and polite in the hospital, even serenading nurses with her favorite Hannah Montana song.
“She’s always been an incredibly bright, positive and vivacious child. She has a special heart and has an amazing ability to see the good in any situation,” said Edgerly, before receiving a big, loving hug from Isabella.
Michael Stickels, a fifth-grader from Solana Pacific school, received the award for fellowship. Teacher Paula Merrick honored Michael for the way he volunteers for the Circle of Friends group at his school, a group that helps students with special needs. She said Michael is a compassionate, supportive and dependable friend, showing “exceptional maturity and kindness to those with special needs and challenges.”
Ezra Bisom-Rapp, a sixth-grader at Del Mar Hills Academy, was celebrated for his very green fellowship at school. Ezra started a recycling program at school, leading a team of volunteers who help gather items for recycling.
Ezra was also trained by the Red Cross in CPR and in the use of automatic defibrillators—he’s become such an expert that he helps instruct others and prepared a course for a local Cub Scout troop.
“Ezra is a dedicated, community-minded and highly academic student at our school,” said teacher Allison Warren.
Skyline School teacher Twila Gwin honored the fourth-grade duo of Danielle Rosenthal and Paige Geary for their community service in her special needs classroom.
Gwin said the girls offer their time on a daily basis to help the students feel accepted and teach them how to socialize.
“I’m so glad you’re only in fourth grade so we have two more years of your wonderful volunteerism,” Gwin told the pair.
At just 6 years old, Carmel Del Mar first grade student Madison Dawson has already made a difference at her school, also helping out with special needs students.
Teacher Laurie O’Farrell said that she is a role model for others, acting as a “protector and advocate for students with various disabilities.”
“She wants everybody to feel included and cared for,” said O’Farrell. “She gives her time without being asked…Many adults could watch and learn from her, she’s been an inspiration to all.”
In the area of art, Solana Vista third-grader Vivienne Franke was honored for her talent, creative intellect and ability to appreciate and master new techniques in art.
Teacher Kiri Thompson said that she is an exceptional, hard-working student whose talent “far exceeds the ability of the average third grader.”
Alyssa DeVries, a sixth-grader at Torrey Hills School, was also honored for her art in the area of writing. Alyssa is a gifted writer who also wrote a song called “Torrey Hills”— mom Shelley Gerber said her words “flow easily from her heart and touch everyone around her.”
“I’m so proud that you can be brave enough to use your gift to share your feelings with the world,” Gerber said.
Solana Santa Fe School teacher Marsi Hays honored her sixth grade student Jacob Brumm in the area of humanities.
“My only challenge this year is staying one step ahead of him,” she said.
Jacob has a drive for excellence in the classroom and helps inspires classmates to give their very best, Hays said. He shows amazing focus despite a busy tennis schedule and as a loyal friend has a high level of respect for others.
“Others are drawn to his quiet leadership,” Hays said.
Alexa Hatt, a sixth-grader at Carmel Del Mar, was awarded for her achievements in the area of science. Teacher Linda Dugger said she is a dedicated member of the robotics club, has an aptitude for video production and is the student body vice president.
Alexa also created her own fundraiser to support the Zoo Crew, the school program that takes care of the science lab animals. “With a happy heart and a smile on her face” she earned more than $1,000 for the program by selling Zoo Crew merchandise.
“She will be a life-long learner as the result of her curiosity, enthusiasm and desire for excellence,” Dugger said.
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