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Molalla junior named Oregon's Migrant Student of the Year

by: MOLALLA PIONEER - Molalla High School junior Denise Aquino was named the Oregon State Migrant Student of the Year Friday in Seaside.Molalla High School junior Denise Aquino, 17, was named the Oregon State Migrant Student of the Year Friday at a state presentation ceremony in Seaside.

“Molalla’s never had a student honored like that before,” said Alan Willey, principal of Mulino Elementary School and the state migrant student coordinator.

The daughter of Eduardo and Teresa Aquino, Aquino has a weighted GPA of 4.35, and ranks second in her class of 182 students.

“I knew I got nominated, but not sure I’d be chosen,” she said. “I’m happy, and I plan on continuing my education through college and becoming an optometrist. I want to make my family proud.”

Denise’s parents came from Oaxaca, Mexico, and they still perform agricultural migrant work. Both of her older brothers, Gonzalo and Lenin, are graduates of Pacific University. Both are pursuing graduate degrees.

“I have known Denise and her family since she was born,” Willey said. “This family defines the American Dream as I understand it.”

Being selected Student of the Year reflects on her entire family, as her parents and all three of their children share the values of academic achievement, service to community, and integrity, he said. “Every educator can reflect on their career and single out a student that they highly respected, and in my case it is Denise,” he said. “Denise represents the best that Molalla has to offer, not just the migrant community, but our overall school community. I am not alone in my beliefs. I am speaking for all of her past and current teachers, and past and current administrators when I attest to her excellence in and out of the classroom.”

Denise has ambitions of being an ophthalmologist or optometrist and said that her brothers were her role models. She participates in the MHS cross country and track programs, and is an accomplished long distance runner. She is also a member of the National Honor Society and she volunteers for the Molalla Apple Festival.

She also volunteers in the Migrant Summer School program where she was once a student. As a migrant student herself, she understands the challenges of being a bilingual migrant student, and she wants to help the children who are following in her path.

“She is a high-level student, one of the state’s best,” Willey said. “She has successfully challenged the most rigorous offerings at Molalla High School, including a number of Honors and Advanced Placement courses As a sophomore she earned an A in both Chemistry and Anatomy/Physiology. For the first semester this year she earned an A in College Chemistry and AP History, an A- in Math Analysis and a B in Physics. Denise is a gifted student, and without doubt she will be a college graduate and successful post-graduate student as well. Denise will graduate from Molalla High School next year with a number of college credits.”

There are 19,000 migrant students in the state of Oregon, 225 of whom attend Molalla schools.

Jonathan Fernow, the state education specialist for the Oregon office of Educational Improvement and Innovation, presented the award to Aquino during the ceremonies. Fernow said Aquino was by far the unanimous choice of the state Department of Education’s nomination committee.

“It says something about Denise’s parents when all their children have the success they’ve had,” Fernow said of the Aquino family. “The background and support her parents have given her is remarkable. And she had some good role models with her brothers.

“This is the first student of the year award that the state has presented in 10 years,” he added. “If we didn’t’ have someone outstanding, we didn’t give an award. Our state advisory committee said they wanted to recognize parents and students in the migrant program. Denise and her family”

Last year the state did not receive any truly outstanding nominations, he said, so they did not give an award.

“But Denise is truly outstanding,” he said. “It was a proud moment for me because I know her and her family so well. She represents the best of Molalla, not just the migrant community.. To be the best of 19,000 students is quite an honor and very deserving.”