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2020 Jeffco Heroes named by Jeffco Schools Foundation

More than 200 people gathered on May 8 via Zoom to celebrate Jeffco heroes. This year’s Jeffco Schools Foundation (JSF) Hero Awards honored four educators and four students for the differences they make.

Teacher and student Hero Award winners are nominated by peers and educators and chosen by a panel of community leaders and volunteers.

Educator heroes winners will each receive a new Chromebook and scholarships for continuing education. Student heroes will receive a full scholarship to Red Rocks Community College, a new Chromebook, and will share contributions to a special Student Hero fund.

Educator Jeffco Heroes

Videos produced by Jack Maher, Jeffco Schools multimedia specialist, told the stories of this year’s heroes:

  • Dawn Walters, Jeffco Open School campus security officer
  • Rosie Durbin, Jeffco Open School physical education teacher
  • Casey Walter, Lakewood High School chemistry teacher
  • Carolyn Watts, Wayne Carle Middle School learning specialist

Dawn Walters

Jeffco Open School Campus Security Officer Dawn Walters says,“I put a lot of love into what I do.”

After many years as the school’s kitchen manager, Walters completed a degree in health and human services and began working in campus security. She says her favorite part of the job is the rapport she can build with the students.

Jeffco Open Principal Scott Bain notes Walters, “knows all the kids and all the families and is deeply invested in their well being.”

Rosie Durbin

Jeffco Open School PE teacher Rosie Durbin also received a Hero Award. Durbin attended Jeffco Open as a student and now works out with her students to get them moving in as many different ways as she can, hoping to develop lifelong habits.

After 21 years on the job, Durbin is known as “the heartbeat of the school,” leading efforts for the Pumpkin & Zombie Dash, Field Day, All-School End of Year Picnic, and even the all-school photo, taken each year from the school rooftop.

Casey Walter

An educator hero from Lakewood High School took on extra duties to support LHS students after a car accident nearly claimed the life of a fellow teacher.

Chemistry teacher Casey Walter guided her colleague’s students through the second part of their IB Chemistry exam the day after the accident, and spent many months learning and teaching that course, known as one of the most challenging in Jeffco, to students the following year.

At the same time, she organized meal delivery for her colleague, and encouraged students to send positive messages to their beloved teacher.

Carolyn Watts

Wayne Carle Middle School‘s Carolyn Watts said she’s driven to make the school a better place for all students, not just those she teaches as a learning specialist. Diagnosed herself with a learning disability as a child, Watts shows students that they, too, can overcome obstacles.

“She believes all kids can learn at high levels, and creates an environment that’s welcoming so that they can,” said Wayne Carle Assistant Principal Jen Carlson about Watts’ approach.

Student Jeffco Heroes

Angely Castro

Overnight, Jefferson Jr/Sr High‘s Angely Castro went from student to caregiver when her mom had a stroke just as Castro was preparing for her SATs.

Castro rose to the occasion, caring for her mother and her nephews while maintaining high grades.

Now, she’s dedicating her future healthcare career, using nurse aide skills learned at Warren Tech, to care for her mother.

“How do you make life different than what was handed to you?” asked Jefferson Principal Michael James. “Angely is a pure role model for all of that. She has risen above her circumstances. That is clearly the essence of this young lady.”

Michael Cruz

Arvada West High School student hero Michael Cruz has overcome poverty, homelessness, and hunger.

Once suspended for stealing a sandwich because he was hungry, Cruz said that he asked himself, “What do I want to do with my life?”

His answer was that he wanted to be successful, make his parents proud, and his life worth something. This marked a turning point, and as Cruz thrived, he reached out to fellow A West students who struggled.

“We all need that kind of kindness,” says Cruz. “We all need that someone to be there. I did. I wanted someone to be like, ‘Hey man, you’re great! You’re good. Just keep on going.’”

Ethan Perrin

Described as “a quiet leader – one that leads by his actions,” Arvada High School senior Ethan Perrin has helped oversee many ambitious school performances as the school’s theater department stage manager.

Perrin overcame a troubled family life, and found a lifeline in the theater program and the school’s Career Explore program.

Now, Perrin has plans for college and an entrepreneurial career. Arvada Principal Gina Yacovetta says Perrin has “practically raised himself, and he is just unbelievable.”

Aracely Garcia

Columbine High School educators describe Aracely Garcia as a “caring, empathetic student, with a glowing personality.”

Commuting all the way from Aurora to attend Columbine, Garcia balances life as a student with taking care of her family since her mom’s cancer diagnosis several years ago.

“Listening to her, and hearing her speak about her mom, you realize her mom is very much a hero, too,” says Columbine counselor Megan Duffy.

Garcia serves as a student assistant in the school’s counseling center, and as a student ambassador, teaching new students the “Rebel way” of doing things.

Supporting the Heroes

Superintendent Jason Glass, School Board President Susan Harmon, JSF Board Chair Dayna Ashley-Oehm and JSF Executive Director Angela Baber all congratulated and encouraged the heroes throughout the virtual program.

In addition, Baber, who joined JSF in January, highlighted the Foundation’s COVID-19 fund, which at the time had raised over $60,000 to support nearly 2,000 Jeffco students and their families connected to more than 40 Jeffco schools. The fund has also provided internet for 300 low-income students, and purchased devices to support remote learning.

Numerous local businesses, organizations and individuals made the evening possible through their sponsorship, including Comcast, Education Nonprofit Corporation, FirstBank, the Gill Foundation, Help Colorado Now, Kaiser Permanente, Lockheed Martin, the Morgridge Family Foundation, Red Rocks Community College, Westerra, Jill Fellman, and Nancy Hoffmaster. 

As the evening came to a close, Baber offered her time to meet personally with any of the Hero Award winners.

Billed as a “community event” rather than a fundraiser, the program still provided a way for supporters to invest in the futures of student heroes.

All donations made to that special fund will go directly to Castro, Cruz, Perrin, and Garcia.

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