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The Third Annual MDUSD Art & Digital Media exhibition at Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord kicked off on May 7th, featuring Art & Digital Media Pathways student work from College Park, Concord, Mt. Diablo and Northgate high schools. The artwork with be on display through May 21st in the mall's food court, through a partnership with the shopping center and the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.

Concord HS photography teacher Jen Kennedy said the exhibition gives public exposure to students' work, and noted that many of the students are earning college credits through a partnership with Diablo Valley College for their Career Technical Education, or CTE, courses. At Concord HS, students can earn 6 college units in photography and 9 units in graphic design, she said. "That's what makes this so cool." 

The exhibition includes four large screen monitors that display digital photos of art created at each of the high schools represented, including photography, animation, graphic arts, and digital media. Three of College Park HS freshman Liza Vlasenko's Art and Design class creations are on display, including a blue and yellow Mandala in honor of her native country Ukraine, an "atmospheric landscape" featuring a dreamlike colorful digital collage, and a striking drawing of a tiger formed with the names of endangered animals in white, silver and gold on a black background. Liza, who immigrated to the U.S. with her parents two years ago, said she plans to continue taking art classes next year. "I like that people can express themselves through art - their passions and what they like - and there's no limit to what you can create," she said. Liza also said she loved that the student art is on public display because it can help others find out about the classes in MDUSD and possibly even interest more people in creating art. Her father Anton Vlasenko said he and his wife were impressed with the high quality of the displays and proud of the "astonishing results," which they photographed alongside their daughter. 

Concord HS art student Sobada Merzaie and her brother Rustam recently immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan. Although they speak little English, they are able to express themselves through art and photography. Rustam's macro close-up black and white photo of a hand grasping a chain link fence is displayed on a screen along with two other black and white photos created by his classmates. As the digital slide show continues, Sodaba's drawing of her own hand sketching animals and human figures appears in the center of a screen between two drawings by her classmates. "She is very good at drawing," said her teacher, Jen Kennedy, who communicates with the Merzaies using Google translate on her phone. "They like to photograph nature," she said, after asking them what they like about their art classes.

Northgate HS freshman Steven Olson brought his Uncle Vince Olson to see his Photoshop art project featuring a futuristic red sports shoe. Steven said he likes art because he gets to be creative and he hopes to take more art classes in the future. Vince Olson said he appreciated the exhibition of student work. "You really see some amazing talent," he said. "I think it's a great opportunity to introduce them to art development as a possible career path."

More information about MDUSD Career Pathway programs is here



Read More about MDUSD Art & Digital Media Showcase on display at Sunvalley Shopping Center through May 21st
Black Excellence Awards

MDUSD’s 2nd Annual Black Excellence Awards Night on May 9th at Concord High recognized and honored 140 student award winners in grades TK-12 for academic achievement and attendance. In addition, Black Educator Awards were presented to Mt. Diablo HS Principal Dr. Markell McCain, Shore Acres Vice Principal Dr. Tiffany Jackson, District Administrator Linda Pete, Teachers Malachi Tripp and Leah Lipscomb, Classified staff members Gordy Cruel and Rae Jackson Sr., Counselor Shalendell "Sissy" White, and Social Worker Deonne Curtis-Wesley. Parent Noelle Cummings received the African American Parent Advisory Committee Parent of the Year Award. And Gregory Gardens Elementary, Sequoia MS and College Park HS received Equity Awards.

African American Family Engagement Coordinator Dr. Lamont Francies welcomed families, noting that some students at the standing-room only event may only be used to hearing applause when they throw a ball or jump high in sports. But this celebration was not about sports. It was all about Black student achievement, with inspiring remarks from Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark and equity consultant Dr. Shelley Holt. Dr. Clark said he has been working with District administrators to "shake things up" and "change the narrative" in MDUSD by holding all staff and students to high expectations so that everyone feels welcome and all students can reach their full potential. He received applause from the audience when he said: "I will not accept mediocrity. When it comes to working with kids, they deserve our absolute best. I advocate for all of our students."

Holt urged families to teach their children to be future leaders by educating them about their history and culture; how to manage a home; how to budget, save and invest; to pursue to whatever careers interest them; and how to communicate and connect with others in positive, healthy relationships where they can disagree effectively and respectfully. "If we are going to continue to have Black excellence," she said, "it's got to start at home." 

Then the fun began, as students walked proudly across the stage by school to accept awards for top performance on standardized English language arts or math tests, top attendance, or top Grade Point Averages among Black/African American students at their schools. Click on these Social Media posts to see highlights featuring students from Gregory Gardens ElementaryHolbrook Language AcademySun Terrace STEM ElementaryWalnut Acres ElementaryValley View MS and College Park HS.

Black Excellence Awards


Read More about MDUSD's Second Annual Black Excellence Awards celebrate educators, schools and students
FMS Green Ribbon Award

Congratulations to Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek, which has earned a 2024 California Green Ribbon Award for environmental excellence. It received a bronze level award for showing "entry level commitment" in three areas:

  • reducing environmental impacts and costs;
  • improving the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff; and
  • providing effective environmental and sustainability education.

It first received a bronze Green Ribbon School award in 2018, when science teacher Devin Jackson submitted an application explaining how students in the after-school Environmentally Concerned Kids (ECK) Club work to divert waste from landfill into recycling and composting - and how the school educates students and families about eco-literacy. 

Building on that success, Jackson has continued to advise the club, which this year includes about 10 students in grades 6-8 who meet weekly for one hour after school to raise environmental awareness, and foster sustainable practices among students, with a goal of reducing the school's carbon footprint and qualifying for a Silver, Gold, or Green Achiever Green Ribbon School Award within the next 2 - 3 school years. This year, Foothill MS achieved 65% waste diversion and hopes to reach 80% or more by 2030, Jackson said.

"The E.C.K. Club's main initiative is a recycling and waste reduction program," he said. All students in the school can earn raffle tickets by correctly sorting waste and minimizing trash, with a chance to win prizes at the end of the year, which promotes a greener campus. The E.C.K. Club conducts trash collection walks and waste audits to manage and reduce school waste effectively. "This enabled us to reduce 65% of the landfill waste compared to 2021," Jackson said. In addition, the club has established a garden of approximately 600 square feet where students create their own compost, which enhances their learning environment and commitment to sustainability. "Looking ahead, we aim to expand this garden throughout the school to provide a vibrant space for students to engage with environmental issues," Jackson said. Club members also hope to build support for zero-waste sustainable climate change goals throughout MDUSD and Contra Costa County to generate community-wide solutions. 

"We want to spread awareness and create change in our world by thinking globally and acting locally" said club President Alex McCarty. Vice President Chloe Carey added: "As a club, we strive to teach our peers about the environment and what is happening in the world." Rhea Lokesh noted, "although educating others helps us grow, we also need to make change happen within ourselves." And Perry De Lucia said the club wants to create a native garden space "where students can talk and express themselves and their love of the environment." School pride also plays a role in their efforts. "We want the entire campus to be clean, and unlittered," said Sarika Puppala. Jackson, who teaches Science, STEM, STEAM, Engineering, Robotics and Environmental Literacy, engages students with his enthusiastic motto: "Science rocks and so do you!"

More information about the E.C.K. Club is on the school's website under "Foothill Clubs" here.

FMS Green Ribbon Award
Foothill MS Green Ribbon


Read More about Foothill Middle School is a California Green Ribbon School!
Friday Letter

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights:

  • Foothill MS receives Green Ribbon Award;
  • Black Excellence Awards celebrate educators, schools and students,
  • Art & Digital Media Showcase at Sunvalley Shopping Center through May 21st
  • District News including MDUSD Board honors Classified Employees of the Year and Student Board Member, Board Briefs regarding recent Board actions and an upcoming special meeting, MDMEF Concert Saturday in Concord, and Fentanyl Awareness Event on Wednesday at Pleasant Hill MS;
  • School News including Diablo View MS staff receives CA Distinguished School Award presented by CA Teacher of the Year Joseph Alvarico from Ygnacio Valley HS; Mountain View Elementary hosts Science, Art, and Maker's Fair; Oak Grove MS students present community projects; Sun Terrace STEM Elementary hosts First Annual Robotics Friendly Competition with Fair Oaks Elementary; Mt. Diablo Adult Education's Transition Options Program holds 10th Annual Creativity Expo; Walk & Roll Day Social Media Highlights from Walnut Acres and Vallhalla elementary schools and Holbrook Language Academy;
  • Student News featuring Pleasant Hill MS student earns 2nd place in Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center art contest; and Student Social Media Highlights from Mt. Diablo, Olympic and Northgate high schools;
  • Staff News featuring Northgate HS Vice Principal and Adult Education staffer lauded as heroes; and Staff Social Media Spotlights featuring staff at Walnut Acres, Woodside, and Gregory Gardens elementary schools, and College Park HS; and Teacher Appreciation Week Social Media Spotlights from Mt. Diablo HS, Holbrook Language Academy and Olympic HS;
  • And more!

You can read it here.

Read More about Friday Letter - May 10, 2024
CHS student Conor Miranda at Valle Verde Elementary

Valle Verde Elementary students were treated to a special guest speaker at our their character trait assembly on April 30th - Concord HS student Conor Miranda, who is the son of Valle Verde Secretary Tracy Miranda and attends the Autism Magnet Program at CHS. He spoke to the students about his experiences living with autism and highlighted the character trait of patience when dealing with friends who think a little differently, reminding the students that leading with kindness is always the right thing to do. "The students were engaged, and respectful, and it was a great way to end Neurodiversity Awareness Month," the school posted on Instagram.

"Neurodiversity is just a popular term used to describe the differences in how some people's brains work," Tracy said. "People perceive and respond to the world differently, and we should be empathetic and understanding of those who think in a different way than we do. We did explain to the students in the assembly that neurodiversity includes autism, ADHD, dyslexia, sensory processing disorder, dyspraxia, and more, but that Conor was going to speak about his experience living with autism."

Conor's message is so powerful that we are including it here in the hopes that the wider MDUSD community can learn from him:

"Hi everyone, my name is Conor. As you already heard, I attended this school, and when I was 10 and in 4th grade I gave a speech about autism. Now I’m 16 and in 10th grade, and I wanted to come and share some information with you. First, I have a question. How many of you play video games, raise your hand? How many of you play on an X-Box? How many of you play on Play Station? How many of you play on a Nintendo Switch? Well, some may argue that whichever system they play is better than the others, but that’s not true. They just work differently. Brains are kind of the same. For me, and other people with autism, we have brains that work differently than yours. Some things are super easy for me, and I could amaze you with the things I can memorize, or how fast I can do mental math. However, there are things that you may think are easy that might be harder for me.

Some things that people with autism struggle with are noise sensitivity, anxiety, focusing on one subject, and trouble with social situations. I can hear things right now that most of you can’t. It’s very hard for me to focus in a classroom with lots of students because I can hear lights humming, or things clicking, and someone playing with a zipper behind me. My brain is thinking about many things at once, so if it’s a subject I don’t really care about, I can often drift off. Autistics also struggle in social situations. Many people with autism can’t always detect sarcasm for example. I’m lucky that I don’t struggle with that,
because, as many of you know, my mom is often sarcastic, and taught me well. Another thing autistic people struggle with is we think very literally. Sometimes it’s hard to know when people are joking, or what a teacher is asking me to do, because I’m interpreting the information differently than my peers. As I have gotten older, I have learned to advocate for myself and tell my teachers that Ineed it explained in a different way.

For anyone here who may be neurodivergent, I want you to know when I attended school here people picked on me all the time. It wasn’t fun. I would like to say that things got better, but if I’m being honest, even now at my school, I still get picked on a lot. People sometimes are just mean to me for no reason. I am hoping that maybe I can inspire some of you who don’t face some of the challenges others do, to be more patient, and accepting, and learn to not pick on people who are different. Instead of teasing your peers, or laughing at them, maybe you could be patient and empathetic. Everyone wants friends, and nobody likes to feel isolated.

I want you all to know that there are always going to be some people that are jerks. You just need to find people that accept you for who you are. I like to say, “don’t put counterfeit bills in your wallet to make it look like you have more money.” What I mean by that is, don’t be friends with people just to say you have more friends. Choose the ones who are kind, accepting, and who choose you back.

Thank you for listening and for having me here today. I hope that I can inspire some of you who struggle with things to be happy with who you are. There’s nobody else on earth like you, and that’s what makes you special. If you’re having a hard time now, hang in there. Eventually you will find your people. Anyone who doesn’t want to accept you for you, doesn’t deserve your friendship anyway. I hope that when you leave here today you will make it your mission to be more patient and kind to those who are different from you. One of my favorite quotes that I want to leave you with is, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Everyone here, including the teachers, all struggle with things. You never know when a kind word could change someone’s whole day. So, give compliments, talk less, smile more, and be kind always. Thank you." 

CHS student Conor Miranda at Valle Verde Elementary

Concord HS student Conor Miranda (center) speaks to Valle Verde Elementary students about living with autism, stressing the importance of character traits including patience, empathy and kindness.

Read More about Concord HS student discusses autism, patience, empathy and kindness as guest speaker at Valle Verde Elementary
CTE showcase

Students from all five MDUSD comprehensive high schools participated in the 2024 MDUSD Career Pathways Showcase on May 2 at John Muir Health in Concord, displaying photos and samples of their work and speaking to visitors about what they are learning. After the showcase, five students participated in a panel discussion about the value of the career pathways programs.

The participating programs included:

  • Art & Digital Media at College Park HS;
  • Art & Digital Media, Engineering, and Transportation at Concord HS;
  • Art & Digital Media, Engineering, Information Computer Technology, and Patient Care at Mt. Diablo HS;
  • Art & Digital Media at Northgate HS; and
  • Education, Engineering, and Patient Care at Ygnacio Valley HS. 

MDHS Patient Care Pathway student Yanellie Martinez, a senior, said she wants to be a nurse practitioner and plans to attend Los Medanos College after graduation, then transfer to a four-year college to get her RN, and later a master's degree. The pathway is helping to prepare her with courses including medical terminology and hands-on experiences including internships, she said.

CPHS Art & Digital Media students Emma Gil, Naomi Wong and Evan Yi said their graphic design courses help them express their creativity and learn to use digital tools that will help them after they graduate. 

MDHS Art & Digital Media student Alejandra Martinez said she enjoys using her creative skills to design websites and logos, and has also worked in a photo booth. She plans to attend UC Davis and wants to show her Shore Acres Elementary, Riverview MS and MDHS community that as a Latina from an immigrant, low-income family, she can achieve her goals and wants to "give back." MDHS engineering student David Kyeu proudly showed off the robot he helped create in the after-school robotics team and said the pathway is preparing him to pursue his goal of becoming an aeronautical engineer. Eventually, he wants to build drones, planes and rockets, he said. 

CHS Art & Digital Media student Dayanna Garcia said the pathway helps bring new ideas into her head to prepare her for a career in interior design or architecture. She also enjoys photography and would love to be able to pursue that as a "side gig," she said, adding, "it brings me joy. I love to capture moments that make me happy or sad or other feelings."

YVHS Education pathway student Brianna Carrion Jimenez said her courses are preparing her for a career as a teacher, ideally returning to YVHS and teaching in the same pathway. She is drawn to the values her teachers stress in the program's pillars: family, academics, accountability, resilience, integrity, and a growth mindset. Brianna said the program is supportive and feels like a family.

MDHS Art & Digital Media teacher Kat Gallo, who was a student in that pathway herself, said it gives students hands-on skills in graphic design and photography, as well as "soft skills," such as working together collaboratively as a team. Career Technical Education, or CTE, provides "real-world skills in a learn by doing environment, which is real important to our students," she said.

CTE showcase


Read More about High School Career Pathways students shine in Career Technical Education Showcase
CCEA Award

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce Alternative Education Principal Melissa Brennan has been recognized as a 2024 California Continuing Education Association (CCEA) Plus Administrator of the Year! She received the award on April 26th at the CCEA Plus annual conference, where several other MDUSD alternative education staff members also received Region 4 awards. Brennan is Principal at Prospect Continuation High School, which was recognized as a 2023 California Model Continuation High School last year. In addition, she is Principal of the Horizons Center for Independent Study, the Horizons Virtual Learning Elementary and Middle schools, and the Opportunity Program for Students on Extended Suspension. She was nominated for the award by Prospect teacher Elizabeth "Libby" McDonagh, who won the regional and state 2023 California Continuing Education Association Plus Teacher of the Year awards last year. "What Melissa is able to do for our school is incredible," McDonagh said. "She oversees so many programs, but she is still able to care for our students at Prospect better than most administrators that oversee just one school. Her dedication and hard work is admirable, and our entire team is so lucky to have her as our leader."

The award is given annually to individuals who have "gone above and beyond in their leadership with staff, dedication to student success, and involvement in their community," according to a letter from the CCEA Plus State Award Committee. Samantha Allen, MDUSD's Director of Secondary Education, said: “Melissa has consistently demonstrated exceptional leadership and dedication, and it's truly exciting to see her accomplishments recognized in this way. Please join me in extending our heartfelt congratulations to Principal Brennan on this well-deserved achievement!”

Brennan said she was very surprised by the award and was especially grateful that she was nominated by a teacher. "We have a great team," she said, adding that teacher Cristina Espinosa Wray nominated her colleague Libby McDonagh last year. "We have a very collaborative, supportive group of teachers who work very well together. We celebrate each other's strengths and recognize them and honor their work. That’s just something I think is unique. They work as a team and encourage each other to grow and collaborate." Brennan is also a collaborative leader, who seeks feedback from both staff and students about how she can improve the programs she oversees. A key ingredient in her ability to cultivate strong relationships is her background in counseling.

She started her career in MDUSD as a Behavioral Health Specialist at Olympic Continuation HS in 2009-10, working as a therapist. She also has a counseling credential and obtained her administrative credential while working, then became a vice principal at Mt. Diablo HS in 2012-13, where she worked for three years, then had a baby and moved to a position as a vice principal at Pine Hollow MS for five years. She started her role as Principal at Prospect HS in August, 2020 during the pandemic, "trying to build relationships through Zoom." Although her programs have changed and evolved during the past four years, one thing has remained constant for the students she serves: "The theme for all of these is the traditional school setting just wasn’t working for them for some reason," she said. "I like that every single one of my programs is an alternative to the traditional setting. So when I meet with the families and staff and students, we're going to think outside the box." She said her students have a lot of challenges, but also have a lot to offer the world. "I feel like in this role, with my counseling and therapy background, that 90% of my job is counseling with students and parents. I have the privilege of fostering a supportive environment for them and really getting to know the kids and being a cheerleader on the side and seeing them grow, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see them graduate." 

Brennan knows she and her staff are making a difference because her students tell her: "School never made sense to me. I was always having anxiety. Now, the school is welcoming. The teachers care." She interviews her students twice a year and asks what they want to keep going at the school, what they want her to stop, and what they'd like her to start. Based on these conversations, she and her staff have started offering P.E., psychology, sociology, a culinary class and a leadership class. "We want them engaged," she said, adding that although students face challenges, "we don't lower our expectations" and they provide a rigorous curriculum. They have implemented "standards-based grading" focused on mastering concepts and in February introduced Yondr bags where students store their cell phones so they won't be distracted during class. "Our credits just zoomed," Brennan said, explaining that students earn credits based on their progress in meeting the curriculum standards. "I had one young man say, 'This thing's really working, I actually got credits this year!"

Calling her programs, "hidden gems," Brennan said, "I love showing off my students and my programs because they’re so great. I just feel lucky to work with these students and this staff. We’ve got a good thing going here."

CCEA Award


Prospect HS teacher Elizabeth "Libby" McDonagh (l-r) stands with Principal Melissa Brennan and teacher Cristina Espinosa Wray at the 2024 CCEA Plus annual conference, where Brennan received a CCEA Plus Administrator of the Year award on April 26th.
Read More about Alternative Education leader is a 2024 CA Continuation Education Association Administrator of the Year
Friday Letter

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter spotlights:

  • Melissa Brennan honored as a 2024 California Continuation Education Association (CCEA) Plus Administrator of the Year!
  • District news including May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Jewish American Heritage Month, and National Foster Care Month; School Lunch Hero Day is Friday, May 3 
  • School news including Career Pathways students from all five comprehensive District High Schools participated in a Career Technical Education Showcase; School Social Media Highlights from Gregory Gardens Elementary, Holbrook Language Academy and Monte Gardens Elementary; Middle School Social Media Highlights from Pine Hollow, Foothill and Oak Grove middle schools;
  • Student News including Bancroft Elementary student wins Spanish Writing Contest; Concord HS student is guest speaker at Valle Verde Elementary discussing autism, patience, empathy and kindness; Olympic HS student receives award in CCEA essay contest; and Student Social Media Highlights from Mt. Diablo, Ygnacio Valley and Northgate high schools;
  • Staff News featuring Olympic HS and Prospect HS staff Regional CCEA Award winners; and Staff Social Media Spotlights featuring Northgate HS VP, Gregory Gardens Principal, and Delta View Elementary Librarian;
  • And more!

You can read it here.

Read More about Friday Letter - May 3, 2024
Josemit Rodriguez

Mt. Diablo High School and the Mt. Diablo Unified School District are proud to announce that senior Josemit Rodriguez has received a prestigious “full ride” Gates Scholarship, which will enable him to attend UC Berkeley at no cost starting in the fall. Josemit plans to double major in aerospace or mechanical engineering as well as business management, with the goal of becoming a tech CEO or helping to create rockets, trains or other technology that helps make the world a better place.

“I want to build and contribute to society in some way or form,” Josemit said. “The way I would love to do that and that I think I am best at doing that is through engineering.” His interest in engineering was sparked by Ygnacio Valley HS engineering teacher Joseph Alvarico, who invited him to join the YVHS Project 212 after-school robotics club when he was a sophomore because MDHS did not have a robotics club. The following year, as a junior, Josemit formed a robotics club at MDHS under the tutelage of math and engineering teacher Kyle Kondo (highlighted under District News here). “I worked closely with him,” Josemit said of Kondo. “He would always say, ‘Do things in engineering for a greater purpose and not just for selfish reasons.’ He basically made me humble.”

Josemit is the second MDHS student to earn a rare Gates Scholarship in two years. Last year, Tori Umaña Almaraz, whose first name is now Solaris, earned the scholarship and is studying math at USC with a goal of becoming a teacher. Josemit and Solaris took Physics together last year and now he is reaching out to them to find out what to expect as he begins to network with other Gates scholars. "It’s so exciting to see success stories from Mt. Diablo HS," Solaris said. "I’m just so happy for him and I can’t wait to see if there are more Gates Scholars in the future." The "highly selective" Gates Scholarship is awarded to "outstanding, minority, high school seniors from low-income households" who are "exceptional student leaders, with the intent of helping them realize their maximum potential," according to the website. This year, Josemit said 750 students were selected out of approximately 53,000 applicants, based on an application, essays, letters of recommendation and a personal interview. "Even as a 10th grader, he had a passion for education that I rarely encounter in the student body," said Kondo, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Josemit. "The following year, Josemit was the driving force in reviving the robotics program post-pandemic at MDHS. The most impressive thing to me, and why I nominated him, was that I have never seen a student with such resilience and determination to push through setbacks. Nothing would come easy to Josemit, but he would consistently approach all obstacles and challenges with a healthy level of tenacity. These small repeated events would add up over time to help shape Josemit's intellect and belief in the power of hard work."

Josemit, whose father is from Mexico and whose mother is from Honduras, is a first-generation Latino student who has helped out with his father's gardening business since he was 15. While working part-time and commuting to school from Bay Point and Pittsburg, he has achieved a weighted GPA of about 4.5. He has taken 10 AP classes at MDHS and took Anthropology at UC Berkeley last summer through the Early Academic Outreach Program ( EAOP). He has been recognized as a National Society of High School Scholars member, is on the Principal’s Honor Roll, received the Pisces-McCloy Scholarship and a Rossmoor Scholarship, earned a CalSAC California Afterschool & Summer Challenge Certificate for advocating at the state capitol in 2023, and was named a Student of the Month in 2021. He is also active in the school's Social Justice Club and newspaper. Josemit stepped down from leading the school's robotics club this year so that new leaders could prepare to continue the club after he leaves, but he continued to participate in the club, which he believes is his legacy to the school. "When I created the robotics program at the school, I had the goal of giving something to this community, to basically leave something for the students here," he said. 

In his four years at MDHS, Josemit said he has grown as a student and as a person. As a freshman and sophomore, he said he was introverted, nervous and insecure about talking to other people, worrying about what they thought of him. But he realized that to be successful in school and in life, he would need to speak up. "I became more confident talking to people over time," he said. "It’s a skill you develop, it’s something that takes time. That happens by putting yourself out there and not stopping. I knew that I couldn’t stay in my personal bubble forever. I wouldn’t be able to achieve the life goals I have if I didn’t put myself out there in the world and make connections with people." This summer, he will make new connections with other Gates Scholars at a conference in Arizona. Solaris plans to connect with him there, if possible. Both said they believe that their Gates Scholarships will help bring positive attention to Mt. Diablo HS. "Everyone here wants to make changes for the better for the school - teachers, staff and students - to basically show the world that Mt. Diablo HS is capable of great things," Josemit said. "And the Gates Scholarship is one of the many ways that we are trying to get that message across."

Josemit Rodriguez

Mt. Diablo HS senior Josemit Rodriguez (right) stands proudly with Principal Dr. Markell McCain in front of the school sign holding a UC Berkeley pennant for the university he will attend in the fall, after learning he was awarded a prestigious Gates Scholarship.

Read More about A Mt. Diablo HS senior receives prestigious Gates Scholarship 2nd year in a row!

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