Local students receive 37th Annual Vic Kops Children’s Challenge Awards

Children’s Challenge Award winners (back row):Emily Chao, London Thomas Brumund, Caleigh Bijan. (Front row): Kellen Gawie, Kristen Rosskopf, Guy Ashkenazi, Elena Burington and Luke Schneider.
(Karen Billing)

The Del Mar/Solana Beach Optimist Club held its 37th Annual Vic Kops Children’s Challenge Awards, celebrating eight outstanding elementary students in a league of their own. At the May 15 breakfast at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club, students won in the categories of community service, art, science fellowship, courage and humanities and went home with a certificate and $100. Meet the winners:

Community Service: Caleigh Bijan, Ocean Air School fifth grader

Teacher Tanya Lukomudrov said Caleigh is like “sunshine on a cloudy day.” Every day at school she greets everyone with a big smile and sets a positive tone for the day. She works to include everyone, is compassionate, kind, and always puts others first like last week when she offered her umbrella to a teacher who was getting soaked by the pouring rain.

“Caleigh makes people feel like they’re worth a million dollars and that is a community service that is of the greatest value,” said Principal Ryan Stanley, reading Lukomudrov’s words. “Thanks Caleigh for making the world a better place, we are so truly grateful for you.”

Science: Guy Ashkenazi, Ashley Falls third grader

Guy was honored for his interest, exploration and discovery in the field of science.

“Guy is a very curious and deep thinker and he especially gets excited and quite eager to learn and share what he knows about anything related to science,” said teacher Sandy Johnson.

Johnson said most recently he shared with his classmates what he has learned about Southern California’s “Super Bloom” and said that for a third grader, he has extensive knowledge of the Periodic Table of Elements. After a recent field trip to the San Elijo Lagoon, he took on the topic of addressing sewage outflow to help the lagoon and prevent pollution—a topic not picked by any other classmates.

Art-Writing: Emily Chao, Sage Canyon fourth grader

Emily a fourth grader at Sage Canyon was nominated by her mother Cindy Hsu. Emily loves to write every day, particularly poetry.

“Emily is such a joy to have in class and her writing is phenomenal,” said her teacher Gina Abbamonte, noting she always looks forward to getting to Emily’s work in her stack of papers as her writing is so much fun to read. “You can truly tell how passionate she is by reading her writing.”

Art-Dance: London Thomas Brumond, Sycamore Ridge School fourth grader

A love of art is a big part of the Brumond family—last year London’s sister Sharkey won a Children’s Challenge Award in the same category. London is a dancer, taking classes with Love to Dance Inc. She dances tap, ballet and jazz and is also a part of the competition dance team.

“When she is on stage, that’s where your eye goes, she shines,” said her mother Mariah, who nominated her for the award.

In addition to dance, London also sings in a rock band.

Art-Music: Elena Burington, Ashley Falls School third grader

Elena has been playing piano since she was 5 years old. She had expressed and interest in playing the drums but her mother Amy Mandel-Burington was hesitant.

After trying the drums in an introductory rhythm class at The Foundation Music Center, her mom was astonished: “The first time she sat down she sounded like she’s been doing it all her life,” said Mandel-Burington, immediately signing her up for a rock band program where they discovered she also had a talent for singing.

Elena has also inspired her parents: her dad took up bass and mom started taking guitar. They recently had their first family music performance together.

Fellowship: Kellen Gawie, Del Mar Heights fourth grader

Teacher Susie Hopper said that Kellen is “the most optimistic child you will ever meet.” He is delightfully positive, quick with a compliment, always looking out for others in need and helping fellow students.

Hopper said one day in class she was asking her students what kind of reward they would like for their effort on a task when Kellen asked: “Can’t I just do it to learn?”

“You can imagine how having this voice in my class helps persuade the others to try a little harder and, even more importantly, to help spread the joy of learning,” said Hopper, who was brought to tears at the thought of this “happy little soul.”

Courage: Luke Schneider, Carmel Del Mar first grader

Courage exploits usually come from a tale of woe, said teacher Cathie Hays. But there is nothing woeful about her student Luke, a smiling example of determination and courage.

Luke came from China this year where he spent some time in an orphanage. Hays said he taught the students in her class about what it means to be an orphan and speaks to her often about his parents in heaven and his new family here.

“This child has taught me more this year about how to take what life gives you and just keep going,” Hays said.

Humanities: Kristen Rosskopf, Carmel Del Mar first grader

After seeing the musical “Hamilton” with her family, Kristen became fascinated with history and read a novel on her own about Alexander Hamilton to learn more. The play helped spark an interest in history that is amazing for a first grader, said teacher Andrea Appel. She has gone on to read books on the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War and she is also very interested in current events and learning about other cultures.

“I am very, very lucky as her teacher to have witnessed her curiosity and her passion for history on a daily basis,” said teacher Andrea Appel. “She is definitely a global thinker.”

The Children’s Challenge Award’s “fearless leader” Susan Pfleeger was in the hospital and could not attend what is always her most favorite morning as an Optimist. The awards were her friend Vic Kops’ baby and she took over running them after his death in 2007.

Holly Palmer of the Del Mar Union School District, who has worked with Pfleeger for many years on the awards, nominated Pfleeger for what she called the Vic Kops Adult Challenge Award in the categories of community service, fellowship and courage.

“The impact she has had over all these years on children throughout several school districts is amazing. Each child who gets an award will never forget that recognition and will carry that accomplishment with them throughout their life,” Palmer said. “She has faced and continues to face great challenges with extraordinary bravery, endurance and effort. Her impact on those around her is magnified by her kind and true spirit.”

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