Tag Archives: super student

The Goal 
Smasher

August 30, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Jose Soria’s summer vacation was not about sleeping in late and hanging out aimlessly. To the contrary, Soria spent the long, hot days of June, July, and August taking summer classes—not because he had to—but because he wanted to.

His preference for learning over spending his days at the beach began when he found out after his freshman year that his school offers students the opportunity to take college courses alongside their regular coursework. “I looked into the general education class requirements to get into the nursing program and started taking those,” he said. “I’d rather take them now instead of waiting to take them when I get to college.”

As a result, he’ll begin college with some of his required classes already completed, decreasing the overall time, and money, he’ll spend in college before he can begin his career.

He enjoys the opportunity to take these classes now while still in high school. He says this program is different from taking AP classes. “They’re similar to AP classes, but in AP classes you have to take an exam to see if you’re eligible for the college credit. What I’m doing now is [joint enrollment] with Iowa Western Community College.”

According to educateiowa.gov, the concurrent (or joint) enrollment program provides opportunities for high school students to enroll part-time in courses at or through community colleges. Per “Senior Year Plus,” concurrent enrollment courses are offered through contractual agreements between community colleges and school districts within their service area.

That means because Soria is a high-achieving high school student, he has taken courses ranging from college-level composition to intro to health care occupations, and the Council Bluffs School District paid the fees for those courses taken during the school year.

Soria hopes to go into the medicine field as a nurse, or working in surgery in some capacity. He’s drawn to the field because he wants the opportunity to “help a person out and make their day better.” His favorite classes are chemistry and health science, not surprisingly. He enjoys chemistry in particular because he is able to create something out of other things. Soria recently applied to volunteer at a local hospital and hopes to gain valuable experience in the medical field through volunteering.

When not studying or volunteering, Soria can be found exercising daily. “I walk or run every day,” he said, further demonstrating his ability to set a goal and work toward it.

His parents are from Mexico and were not able to finish high school. “They came to the U.S. to give us a better future,” he said. “This pushed me to become more independent and strive to get as much education as I can before I graduate.” Though he was born in Mexico, he has not yet visited there. Now an American citizen, his summers away from high school are full of “school, homework, and making sure I’m on track.” 

Soria has advice for anyone else who wants to accomplish their goals. “It doesn’t matter what your past is,” Soria says. “Always think ahead, and just because you’ve had a certain situation, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Do it for yourself.”

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.