Optimistic about the future: Standout kids recognized by Children’s Challenge Awards

The Del Mar-Solana Beach Optimist Club held its 35th annual Vic Kops Children’s Challenge Awards on May 24, honoring seven local elementary school students “in a league all their own.”

The students were celebrated for their achievements in writing, leadership, community service, science, arts and courage. Winners received a $100 prize. This year’s winners included Carmel Creek second grader Joanne Liu, Carmel Del Mar fourth grader Caleb Harrison, Ocean Air fourth grader Harper Kelley, Torrey Hills third grader Emma Jane Dimmock, Ocean Air sixth grader Aurelia Kuester, Ocean Air fifth grader Ethan Song and Del Mar Heights second grader Viviane Rickert.

“It’s wonderful to honor these elementary students who are doing something right,” said Children’s Challenge Chair and Optimist Susan Pfleeger who, along with her committee, had the difficult task of selecting the outstanding winners from the many nominees.

The writing competition had so many great entries that they decided to award two writers, one in the lower grades and one in the upper grades.

Carmel Creek teacher Jennifer Robinson said Joanne Liu, the second grade winner in writing, is the best young student writer she’s seen in her 12-year career. She said she gets her skills from being such an avid reader.

“I hope she keeps pursuing this and I hope you will all get a chance to read her writing one day,” Robinson said.

Carmel Del Mar therapeutic literacy center teacher Lidia Ayala was proud to honor Caleb Harrison for how far he has come in his writing. She said he went from a student who had some challenges with written expression to uncovering his hidden potential, creating eloquent and creative stories and developing a passion for writing and an eye for detail.

“It’s very clear that Caleb has always had a natural talent for writing,” Ayala said, complimenting his “elaborate and beautiful descriptions” and “exceptional imagination.”

Harper Kelley was honored for her leadership and for always being one of the first people to step in when situations arise at school where there might be conflict. Ocean Air teacher Debbie Cole said Harper sees all sides with an open mind and is a role model for others. On her basketball team, she motivates and encourages her teammates and in her Girl Scout troop she is always ready to help fellow scouts and troop leaders.

“Harper has shown day in and day out that she recognizes her potential and makes a conscious effort to utilize it,” Cole said.

Community service honoree Emma Jane Dimmock arrived at Torrey Hills this year after moving from Wisconsin.

“From day one I knew there was something very special about this young lady,” said her teacher Fereshteh Jenkins.

In her first month at school she was honored as Hawk of the Month for always being helpful for other students. In her free time, she goes to the Salvation Army once a week to feed the less fortunate. Although she is only 8 years old, Jenkins said she is an old soul and she takes the time to talk to the people, make sure they have enough to eat and drink and offers to pray for them.

Aurelia Kuester was honored for her “tenacious” passion and love for science. Teacher Erica Kufahl said she is involved in many scientific endeavors such as participating in Science Field Day, Science Olympiad and the Ocean Air invention fair, inventing things like a solar boat and band-aid kneepads.

An aspiring engineer, she has built an entire homemade Lego city in her room and spends many weekends in the Rueben H. Fleet’s Science Center’s Saturday Science for Girls tinker studio — she has already told her mom she wants to go to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

“She’s only 11 but she is going to blaze a trail with her passion for science,” Kufahl said.

Ethan Song was honored for his achievement in music. Ocean Air music teacher Michelle Beeson said this talented pianist is one of the most amazing musicians and leaders she has met and worked with. While she usually does not feature soloists in the all-school winter concert, this year she relaxed her rules and had Ethan perform a six-minute piano solo of “Fantasy of Star Wars,” a “crazy hard piece that takes a lot of technical skills to perform and it’s impressive that a fifth grader could pull it off.

In addition to his musical skills, Beeson said she most admires Ethan’s “rock solid center core of humility and kindness.” Teacher Sam Chung said Ethan doesn’t fit into just one category and is also a phenomenal student in math and writing and is always willing to help out in class “He’s kind of like my TA,” Chung joked.

In the category of courage Del Mar Heights teacher Paige Rollins recognized Viviane Rickert, a student who displays resiliency and “extraordinary bravery, endurance and effort” facing progressive hearing loss.

Viviane’s hearing declined over the years following her diagnosis and she received a cochlear implant last February. Even with the assistance, it’s a challenge to hear a fraction of the world.

“She consistently puts forth so much effort and positive attitude and courageousness,” Rollins said. “Every day in class she stands out with her can-do attitude, she takes extra time on all of her work, never asking if she’s done enough. She always does more than what’s needed…She’s an exemplary student in every way.”