Vic Kops awards ceremony a favorite

Many Del Mar/Solana Beach Optimist Club members agree--Vic Kops Children's Challenge Awards day is their favorite day of the year.

The day is an occasion to honor outstanding children in the categories of community service, art, science, fellowship, humanities and courage. This year, the club found so many outstanding children that they awarded 11 in the six categories.

This was the 27th consecutive year for the Children's Challenge, founded by late Optimist Victor "Vic" Kops, a Del Mar clinical psychologist. He started the award as a way to recognize children who are in "a league all their own," said Susan Pfleeger, awards co-chair.

Kops died in May 2007 at age 61, just two weeks after presenting that year's awards.

Taylor Austin, a Del Mar Heights third grader, won the award in the category of courage. Teacher Courtney Wildman said Taylor is the type of student that teachers gush over for being such a "sweet, happy kid."

She was born with serious physical challenges and has undergone hours of rehabilitation and several surgeries but still maintains a positive attitude.

"Her enthusiasm for life is contagious," Wildman said, as Taylor stood at the front of the room, her freckled face all smiles.

Four children were awarded in the community service category. Katie Rhodes, second grader at Del Mar Heights School, was honored for being a great playmate and positive helper to children in the special needs program.

Teacher Cindy Ralston said she is a "dear, sweet, warmhearted friend" and that the first grade students in her combination class crawl into her lap during story time.

Malanie An, a second grader at Ocean Air, got a service award for her charity toward children in Tijuana. After her mother Gloria took her on a trip to Mexico she was struck by how little the children had and prompted her mother to start a communitywide toy and clothing drive.

Braeden Abel, a sixth grader at Solana Pacific, brought Operation Noah to his school and synagogue, collecting stuffed animals for children in the hospital.

"He is a ray of sunshine," teacher Neva Ayn Magalnick said. "He always has a huge smile on his face."

Carmel Del Mar fifth grader Natasha Taylor was praised for her willingness to help special need students with her "amazing attitude and huge heart."

Ocean Air fifth grader Leo Li was awarded for fellowship for his dedication to the school's Green Team. Science teacher Tanya Lubomudrov said Li encourages the whole school to recycle and get involved to make the school and the world a better place.

Arthi Haripriyan, a fifth grader at Sycamore Ridge, was awarded in humanities for her ability as a writer. She was described as a quiet student whose voice sometimes isn't heard in the classroom but her written expressions on the seasons, her family and even the war in Iraq have allowed her voice to be heard.

In the category of art, three young artists were recognized: Sage Canyon second grader Lindsey Klein for her fourth grade level talent and curiosity; Sage Canyon second grader Micheal Chen, an "exceptional" piano player who composes his own music; and Lily Nilipour who creates everything from musical compositions and cartoons to poetry.

Alexandra Erdman, a sixth grader from Carmel Del Mar was awarded in science. One teacher said she has a thirst for knowledge, excels in robotics, is the technology director for the school's daily broadcast and is student council vice president.

"She is so mature beyond her years, she brings a sense of calm and peace," teacher Janet Wolfertz said.

Her teachers have faith that Alexandra will go on to find cures for "all that ails us."

   
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