Duenez earns state honor for work to combat local gangs
by: Jaime Valdez, Counselor Ed Duenez was recently honored by the state for his work with at-risk youth in Aloha.

Aloha High School counselor Ed Dueñez believes that sometimes all young people need is a simple nudge to get them over the hump.

That's what Dueñez has been stressing during almost three decades of counseling students.

Oregon Superintendent of Education Susan Castillo recently recognized Dueñez as a counselor of excellence.

'I was totally surprised,' Dueñez said of the recognition.

Dueñez is in his seventh year as an Aloha High counselor. Last year, he helped get a program for at-risk students off the ground.

What Dueñez prides himself on is trying to make a connection with the students. Too many times he finds that if students don't believe they are being heard, 'they detach pretty quick.'

'These kids want to fit in,' said Dueñez. 'They want to belong. They want to be accepted.'

At the end of last year, Dueñez handed diplomas to about a dozen Aloha High School students who graduated from a 10-week youth leadership program focusing on at-risk students, where they addressed the issues of how to avoid gangs, drugs and other social ills and take responsibility for their own actions.

Dueñez said three students who graduated from the program have returned to finish high school.

'They're walking a tightrope and there's temptations,' said Dueñez.

School is 'blessed'

Still, this year, Dueñez is trying to improve the chances for student success. He has taken a group of 150 students and has enlisted the help of 11 teachers to create small classes of around 15 students.

Dueñez said he believes that giving these students attention, and intervention if needed, will make a big difference in their futures.

Another goal is to give students an academic plan to help them graduate. That could mean taking a credit recovery course or signing up for on-line courses.

For more extreme cases, it might mean attending Oregon Boot Camp.

Before coming to Oregon, Dueñez spent more than 20 years working in the San Diego area as an elementary, middle and high school counselor.

In California he was awarded the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge George Washington Medal for creating a club geared toward ethnically diverse students.

Principal Vicki Lukich said the school was 'blessed' to have a counselor like Dueñez and was pleased he received the nod from the state superintendent's office.

'It's always nice to see good staff members recognized outside the district,' she said.

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