ONTARIO — Trying to juggle your coursework can be a struggle for many high-schoolers. But taking on honors-level and college-level classes while in high school is something few can accomplish.

At Ontario High School’s graduation ceremony on May 29, Principal Jodi Elizondo asked members of the graduating class to stand and be acknowledged for various reasons.

Did you participate in varsity sports at Ontario High School? Many stood up.

Are you going to college with a scholarship of any kind? Many stood up.

Are you joining the military after graduation? A few stood up.

Are you graduating this spring with your high school diploma and your associate’s degree?

Leslie Silva was the lone student to stand, followed by applause from the packed bleachers.

At the end of the spring of 2019, Silva has her high school diploma, the Oregon State Seal of Biliteracy and her associate’s degree before heading to college.

A heavy workload

Looking back on the coursework that she had to do, both high school courses and college-level courses, Silva said she’s not sure how she was able to do all the work that was needed.

“It was very difficult,” she said, laughing. “It was a lot of hard work. Junior year is typically difficult for honors students anyway.”

An honors student, Silva started taking college credit classes during her sophomore year. According to Silva, she had a meeting with an adviser at TVCC and was told that she could potentially take enough classes to get her associate’s degree in 2019. It wasn’t until Silva took a summer class at TVCC before her junior year that she realized how real the possibility was of her getting her associate’s degree.

“When I started I was just hoping to get a few college credits out of it,” she said.

On top of taking college-level classes in high school, Silva could also be found working a weekend job at Little Caesars.

“I was always studying or at work,” she said. “But the amount of support I got from my family and my friends took a lot of the load off my shoulders.”

Silva said getting a good education was always a big focus for her family, as neither of her parents were able to finish their high school education, instead opting to get jobs to help provide for the family. Silva said her parents made it clear that they wanted her and her brothers to have an easier life.

“They worked to give my brothers and I as much as they could… From a very young age, my parents made it very clear to me and my brothers that we all had to get our education,” Silva said. “Especially since they are in such high-labor jobs, from early on, I saw that that was not for me and I would need to get a higher education.”

Silva said that being a strong student was especially important to her to help battle negative stereotypes about Hispanic and Latino people.

“Even now, there are a lot of stereotypes and racism that prevail in this country. People think of Latinos and Hispanics and they think they’re uneducated. They only work hard, laborious jobs. And being from a Hispanic family, and a first generation Hispanic family, it was always a goal for me to get that education and to go to college.”

In the last year, Silva said she’s been able to talk to a lot of other students in the community who are interested in getting the most out of their education.

“There are many Hispanics and Latinos who aren’t aware that there are these opportunities at the high school, along with TVCC, to help you get your education and really get you ready for your career,” she said.

On top of her degrees this spring, Silva was one of six to receive a scholarship from the Mexican American Citizens League.

Helping others

This fall, Silva will be heading to Eastern Oregon University and plans on majoring in psychology. After that she said she plans on going to Northwest Nazarene University to get her master’s degree in school counseling. She said she wants to be able to offer free counseling sessions to low-income individuals in her community.

“Helping others has always made me feel good,” Silva said. “And there’s so much, when it comes to mental illness, that people are going through now because of social media and the way that society expects so much of us. I have friends and people I know who suffer from mental illness. Mental health is something I take very seriously and I want to be a part of the solution.”

Silva said one of her biggest helpers in her education was Ontario Middle School counselor Stacey Parrish, who became Silva’s inspiration for her career plan.

“She was very, very helpful in everything,” Silva said. “When I was in middle school, I was on the student council, I was the vice president in seventh grade and she was always very helpful and she would talk to me about all the options I had. She helped me set up my whole schedule for high school. I never would have taken honors classes without her, let alone college classes.”

Nik Streng is a reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4806 or by emailing niklass@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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