MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (August 15, 2017) —Grimes Elementary student Kevin Cuellar immigrated to America from the Dominican Republic just in time to begin sixth grade this past school year. Speaking little to no English, Kevin was determined not to let a language barrier hold him back. He faced down his challenge, and initial frustrations, with resolve. He studied hard to understand his school work and socialize with his new classmates, and by June had become not only the class speaker for sixth grade graduation, but its valedictorian, too.
Kevin’s speech that day began, “I am new to this school and also to this country. I am an immigrant.”
It had been less than eight months since Kevin arrived from the Dominican Republic on his birthday, September 13th, when he first said of arriving in the United States, “It was my birthday present!”
While the transition to a new country was difficult, Kevin worked hard right away to begin learning the language. Early test assessments showed Kevin’s aptitude for math – he worked out complex word problems that proved difficult even for some of his English speaking classmates. Early encouragement from his math and science teacher, Mr. Casey, went a long way toward pushing Kevin even farther.
In his speech, Kevin namedropped both his ELA teacher, Ms. Bryant, and his ESL teacher, Ms. Bergins, with gratitude. He credited them for their patience and giving him the extra classroom time, which he requested, so he could stay focused as he pushed himself to do a little more every day to meet his goal – to score on grade level for ELA.
“The last [assessment] test that Kevin took, his ELA score was on a mid-sixth grade level,” said Bryant. “Kevin was an overachiever!”
Besides being a self-made scholar, Kevin is also an artist. He shared some of his work with Ms. Bryant, who quickly helped him show it off to more people at the school.
“He could draw anything and his handwriting looked like calligraphy,” she said. “Our principal asked him to draw the school mascot, Drexel the Dragon. The original is framed and hangs in the school hallway, Kevin’s rendition of Drexel appeared on the sixth grade graduation tee shirts.”
Kevin flourished academically, made plenty of friends and earned the respect of his peers – many of whom began approaching him for tutoring. He never missed an assignment and earned prizes for the quality of his work.
“Kevin has been an inspiration to everyone at the school,” said Grimes Elementary principal Erik Van Gunten. “He exemplifies the growth mindset through both his determination and his belief that he could overcome these obstacles. He saw challenges as learning opportunities, and that is what we nurture here at Grimes Elementary.”
Kevin let his teachers know early on that his goals included college and a great career. He was given the encouragement and resources he needed to set him on that path, but it was his dream backed by an unflagging work ethic that ultimately earned him his honors.
“When parents, teachers and staff members collaborate to provide the support a child needs, the sky is the limit,” said Van Gunten.
As Kevin delivered that opening line of his valedictory speech – “I am an immigrant” – the audience erupted with applause. And, although directed to his peers, it seemed his speech resonated with many others in the room.
“Don’t let anything stop you. You can do it, even if you fail at first,” he said. “You have to keep on trying, you just have to keep pushing on and never ever give up!”
About Mount Vernon City School District
With more than 8,000 students in 16 schools, the Mount Vernon City School District is committed to providing a quality education to its children as well as developing programs that meet the diverse academic and social needs of its students.