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The City Journals

Canyons Education Foundation awards scholars who rise up to meet life’s, school’s challenges

Sep 16, 2020 02:04PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High’s Yovanni Valdez, left, was presented a Canyons Education Foundation scholarship from Denise Haycock, Canyons Education Foundation development officer. (Screenshot)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Things just weren’t going right when Alexa Davis went to pick up her cap and gown last spring. There was a mix-up on the rental payment, and when she called for help, there was no answer on the call she placed to her grandmother, who she lives with.

Instead of walking away with the cap and gown, she only received her honor cord for earning Corner Canyon High School’s career and technical education pathway, which she also completed the state’s requirements. 

“My counselor wanted me to come check in with her, so I went in to see her afterward, all frustrated,” Davis said. “I thought she wanted to talk, but when I got there, I had no idea what was going on. All these people were staring at me, and I was so confused. Then they pulled out this big cardboard check for the scholarship and I was surprised, like ‘was this for real?’”

Her grandmother, with her cell phone on silent, was there too, beaming at her.

Davis was one of eight Canyons Education Foundation recipients, who were awarded partial college scholarships during the soft closure of schools in response to COVID-19. She and Brighton High’s Asha Brown received the Rising Star $2,500 scholarships while $1,000 awards were granted to Alta High’s Abby Coleman, Brighton High’s Stryder Poulson, Corner Canyon’s John Glavin, Diamond Ridge High’s Natalie Sala, Hillcrest High’s Yovanni Valdez, and Jordan High’s Rose Briones.

The annual Bright Star Scholarship rewards $1,000 to a senior from each high school in Canyons School District who has shown improvement or exemplary effort in working toward the goal of post-secondary education. The Rising Star Scholarship of $2,500 rewards those from the district who have “risen” above trying circumstances either in family life, financially, emotionally or scholastically, and is still dedicating themselves to furthering their education, said Denise Haycock, Canyons Education Foundation development officer.

The scholarship winners were selected by a committee made up of Canyons Education Foundation board members. Each board member follows a rubric and scores on goals, effort, recommendations and overall impression, she said. 

These funds will help make college more foreseeable for these eight students this fall, or in Davis’ case, this summer as she already enrolled and has been studying online at Salt Lake Community College. She hopes to take some in-person as well as online classes in the fall and earn her associate’s degree.

Her dream? An elementary school teacher.

“Without the help of my high school counselor, Amy Hardcastle, and my grandma, I wouldn’t receive this scholarship—and my favorite teacher, Mrs. (Summer) Huntamer; she helped me with the path of what I want to do in my life,” Davis said.

For Davis, it was a rocky path. Her early childhood days were in Naples, Florida, where her parents were struggling with drug addiction and her dad was “in and out of jail.” 

“There was a lot of stuff that was not appropriate or good for us to be around,” she said about growing up in that environment with her sister, who is two years younger. “I took on a protective role for my sister. Our mom disappeared, abandoned us at one point. Dad brought us here to give us a new life, get us out of a bad scene.”

She was 12 when she came to Utah and stayed with her grandmother. Then, her dad died of an overdose and her mother reappeared and took the two girls to Ohio.

“Mom and her boyfriend were still using, and it wasn’t a good situation. I didn’t feel safe, I didn’t feel good about my sister and I living there,” Davis said.

Unbeknown to her, her grandmother was asking for custody, a three-month process, that got her back to the Beehive State in December as a teenager.

“Even though I was back here, I still struggled with depression, self-doubt, PTSD and didn’t have much motivation,” Davis said. “Without the support I’ve gotten and am still getting, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

With that support, Davis has been able to be a tutor for Willow Springs Elementary, testing out the desire to be a teacher as well as work part-time in the field with youngsters. She also has had an internship with first-graders.

“First and second grade were my favorite (growing up),” she said. “I enjoyed teaching kids and helping make a positive difference in the world.”

And as for her cap and gown, her grandmother was able to clear it up. Shortly after, Davis was able to get out of the car that was driven up to the school, shake hands with her principal and pose for a photo.

“It was a quick process, more than I expected we’d have, but I enjoyed it and was glad our accomplishments were celebrated,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the scholarship and being able to continue with my studying.”