KCSOS Honors Four Students with Graduate Memorial Awards

Wednesday May 15, 2024

Every spring, the Kern County School of Services (KCSOS) honors the memory of past Alternative Education employees through the annual Graduate Memorial Awards. The awards recognize students who exemplify the virtues of integrity, empathy, optimism, and perseverance — traits that also describe the person for whom the award is named after. This year’s awards were celebrated yesterday afternoon and showcased the remarkable qualities of the students, but also the enduring legacies of the educators in whose memories the awards are given.

“The history of the memorial awards, which began in 2013, is deeply intertwined with the lives and legacies of our beloved educators,” said Debra Plank, co-director of KCSOS’s Alternative Education department. “We lost three long-time actively employed staff to illness within one year, so we wanted to honor these wonderful people.”

Plank, along with Pam Dobrenen, a program specialist with Alternative Education, initiated the program to honor Jerry Elisondo, Alton Patterson, and Tami Gibson. Sixto Urzua’s name was added in 2021, honoring his long tenure and impact across multiple roles within the Alternative Education division.

According to Nicole Alvarado, a social worker and now coordinator of the event, each award is also a unique reflection of the virtues of the educators they honor—integrity, empathy, optimism, and perseverance. Crafted with input from their families, these awards embody Jerry, Alton, Tami, and Sixto’s professional ethos and personal values. 

Maria Quijada Robles

This year, the Tami Gibson Memorial Award for Integrity was awarded to Maria Quijada Robles. Maria, known for her moral steadfastness and reliability, has demonstrated exceptional dedication. Despite juggling two jobs and facing significant personal challenges, she has maintained high academic standards. Her resilience and commitment to her studies mirror the life of Tami Gibson, who was revered for her unwavering integrity and commitment to education.

According to Maria, she is honored to carry on Tami’s legacy citing she “felt honored that someone noticed her hard work.” Even after enduring discouragement from many, she wanted to graduate and prove them wrong. As she looks to the future, Maria hopes to one day apply to cosmetology school.  

Aubrey Estrada

Aubrey Estrada received the Alton Patterson Memorial Award for Optimism. Whether in her culinary arts class or planning her future, Aubrey’s optimism and leadership have made her a standout student. Alton Patterson, known for his positive outlook, would have found a kindred spirit in Aubrey. “She brings a light to every challenge,” remarked one of her instructors.

After graduation, Aubrey hopes to become a radiology technician or join the military, where she would like to be a pilot.

“I was so excited to be given this award,” said Aubrey. “I feel happy and appreciated and it helps to motivate me as I move on from high school.” 

Aubrey Estrada

Nadia Ortiz poses near a photo of Jerry Elisondo.

Nadia Ortiz

The Jerry Elisondo Memorial Award for Empathy was presented to Nadia Ortiz, who has demonstrated profound understanding and positivity during her transition into the program. Nadia enrolled at Central School and has had to work hard to meet the requirements she needs to graduate. Despite the difficult time she has endured over the last year, Nadia has always chosen to be optimistic and worked hard to meet her goals. Nadia’s ability to empathize and excel has been pivotal in her adjustment and success. Empathy was the cornerstone of Jerry Elisondo’s teaching approach, and Nadia truly personifies this trait.

Adrian Montoya

Adrian Montoya was honored with the Sixto Urzua Memorial Award for Perseverance. From navigating challenges since middle school to becoming a mentor, Adrian’s journey is a powerful tribute to Sixto Urzua’s legacy of overcoming adversity through grit and determination. Sixto’s family members attended the ceremony and also presented Adrian with gifts and well-wishes as he transitions to a new chapter in his life.

Looking to the future, Adrian hopes to be able to attend Bakersfield College and pursue a career as a dental assistant. 

Adrian Montoya

By Jennifer Bryan

By Jennifer Bryan

Jennifer Bryan joined Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2021 as a Communications Specialist. As a creative and motivated marketing communications specialist, she has a special knack for storytelling and content creation. Born and raised in Kern County, Jennifer has worked in major industries within the region such as agriculture and oil and gas before she made the transition to education.