Students Who Shine
By Kylie Cooper
Gen Z – the generation that belongs to those currently between the ages of 4 and 23 makes up the entire education system. The kids who claim membership of Gen Z are quite literally our future. Most people, when thinking about this generation, only attribute to them stereotypical quirks like excessive social media use and viral dance moves. However, there is much more to each of these individuals than what might first meet jaded eyes. Across the world, around the country, and even right here in the Coastal Bend, Gen Z students are coming into their own and taking steps to change the world around them. They are taking matters into their own hands and finding ways to create, learn, work, and strive for a better tomorrow. In this feature, we learn how eight different Coastal Bend students are going beyond the classroom and making a difference in various ways. When asked how their generation will contribute to the future, each student’s answer had something to do with conserving the earth and battling the climate crisis, finding cures to various diseases, and inventing technology that will advance assorted aspects of society. If our futures are on the shoulders, minds, and hearts of these students, then it seems safe to say it could be a rather bright one.
Madison Beckwith, 11
6th Grade | Flour Bluff Intermediate
Four grown adults and one 11-year-old sat on the floor of our office for about 25 minutes on a Thursday afternoon and did nothing but draw rainbows. We never would have guessed how much joy this brought into each of our days, but it was easily one of the highlights of our week. This is the exact reason why Madison Beckwith decided to bring this type of bliss to children who might need it a little more than others.
Madison, you see, was diagnosed with cancer when she was only two years old. After two and a half years of treatments, she was cancer free. Although her fight was over, she knew there were others who would still be on their journey to recovery, and she wanted to help. And so, Madison's Rainbow Project was born. Madison has been donating art supplies and other toys to children undergoing various types of cancer treatments, at Driscoll Children’s Hospital, since she was just three years old.
To know Madison, is to be inspired by her. Her tenacious spirit combined with a passion for life make for a rather phenomenal sixth grader. Other than giving back to her community and brightening up any room she steps foot in, she also loves drawing and painting (no surprise here), playing volleyball, taking care of her two dogs, Myles and Willow, and playing Fortnite. When she isn’t spending her time lending a helping hand to others and trying to change the world, she is busting out her PS4 and exploring new oceans on an alien planet known as 4546B. You know, classic Gen Z activities.
Henry Crawley, 15
11th Grade | Moody High School
It’s 5:30 AM, and Henry Crawley and his mother are awake, preparing for Henry to represent his school at the Chevron Design Challenge in College Station. Henry, who was accepted into the Citgo Innovation Academy Program at Moody High School, has always loved building things with his own two hands. As a member of the Robotic Team, building a completely functioning robot with the help of his teammates, developing the programming for it, and then triple-checking all the mechanisms work are part of Henry’s daily to-dos.
It’s no surprise Henry hopes to go into the field of Computer Engineering upon graduation. He’s represented his school and the Coastal Bend as the first Tech Challenge participant to earn the Inspire Award. He was one of only two students to be picked for the very first Tech Dean’s List. And he represented Moody at the State Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering STEM Competition, where he went on to the Regional Tournament.
Aside from finding ways to better the future state of our world through technology (no big deal), Henry also loves to play Gaga Ball. So much so that installing a Gaga Ball structure at the Boys and Girls Club actually happens to be his Eagle Scout project. Because, yes, Henry also has time to be an Eagle Scout!
Although it might seem as though Henry is all work and no play, he attributes the defining moments of his life to his friends. He says, “The people who motivate me to continue to strive for what I want to do in life – the people that are with me every day, that is what defines me, I think.”
Anika Garcia, 13
8th Grade | Flour Bluff Junior High
An apt question for someone like Anika Garcia would be, “What can’t you do?” Some might call her a baker or a swimmer, others would perhaps describe her as a singer or an adventurous traveler. Whatever role Anika takes on, she does it with kindness and an inquisitive spirit.
Anika, who will be taking on her last year of middle school this fall, has quite an impressive record. She’s an A-B honor roll student, a member of Flour Bluff’s Junior High Varsity Girls Choir, a participant in the UIL Sight Reading and Ensemble (for which she recently earned the highest award for “The Sweepstakes”), and a teammate on the Junior High Swim Team. And that’s just the beginning!
Outside of school, she also participates in the Laguna Little Miss Kickball League, where she plays in the Senior Division. She also performs as one of the youngest members to ever join the Corpus Christi Chorale.
When she is bored, Anika tends to her business. Yup, this 13-year-old also happens to be an entrepreneur. Cakes by Anika will supply your party or event with cakes and other baked goods – all made by Anika herself.
As far as her future is concerned, there is no sign of Anika slowing down anytime soon. She looks at education as something that doesn’t stop when you walk across the stage upon graduating college. “You’ll always be learning something,” she says, “from everything in life you will learn something new.” Her idea of success looks like waking up every single day (no matter how tired you may feel), keeping your commitments to others, and surrounding yourself with people from whom you can learn.
Adeline Vela, 10
5th Grade | Windsor Park Elementary
Adelina “Lina” Vela is a rare find. No matter the task she takes on, she does it with a positive attitude, an enthusiastic spirit, and a tenacity unlike any other. As she enters the fifth grade at Windsor Park Elementary, she is ready to conquer whatever gets thrown her way.
Every report card Lina has received has boasted As, and she’s never missed a single day of school. She’s proven that, no matter how difficult, she will always strive to continue along the path of success one day at a time. This type of work ethic can be seen in her participation in various organizations such as Math Olympiad and Computer Science Club – for which she was recently a National Point Leader. She also managed to place first in the nation for a Language Arts Contest.
In her spare time, Lina enjoys playing soccer and volleyball, hanging out with her friends, and creating art. In fact, if it were up to her, more art classes would be added to the curriculum at school. She also likes playing the piano and recently played in the Hymn Piano Festival.
Although her accolades are numerous, one of the things her parents are most proud of is her character. Her talents and passions are vast, but her smile outshines them all. She always puts others before herself, in everything she does, and, although her parents would like to think they have taught her that, her mom knows that is who Lina truly is at heart.
Faith Willis, 16
11th Grade | Harold T Branch Academy
At the young age of six, Faith became a member of the Willis family. Before that, she was growing up as an orphan in China. When she made the move to the States, as one would imagine, there were adversities to overcome. However, in true Faith fashion, within three months, she was speaking fluent English and acclimating as best she could to her new life.
Faith knows what she wants to do and will always work hard to achieve it. As an avid animal lover, she spends a lot of her free time volunteering at the Gulf Coast Humane Society, where she works in the Neonatal unit. She feeds the newborns that come in and finds immense joy in helping them. Following the theme of her love for animals, she also volunteers her time at the Texas State Aquarium, where she is able to help and interact with various creatures.
Molly, her trusted companion seen in the photo to the right, is definitely one of her best friends. Taking care of her pup and driving around with her just so happens to be one of Faith’s favorite pastimes. In addition to that – and when she isn’t volunteering at her alma mater, Yorktown Christian Academy, or taking three different courses at Del Mar College – she enjoys fishing, reading new books, hanging out with her friends, and of course, watching some good ol’ Netflix.
Although Faith has had to overcome various forms of adversity when growing up, she does not allow that to define her life. She is determined and goal-oriented, and knows having confidence in yourself is half the battle of achieving your dreams.
Roopa Bindingnavele, 14
10th Grade | Ray High School
If there were ever a perfect way to describe Roopa Bindingnavele, it would be when her mother told us why Roopa didn’t answer one of our interview questions. The question had to do with the student’s favorite achievement, and Roopa’s mother Pooja said, “That is the thing about Roopa: she has achieved 20,000 things, but doesn’t brag about a single one of them. It’s just not in her nature.”
For as long as she was able, Roopa has always been the type of person who helps others, works hard, and sees everything she does through to completion. She’ll be going into her Sophomore year this fall, and most of those school nights will consist of one or more of the many extracurricular activities she partakes in. Whether it be swim practice for the Varsity Swim Team, a Speech and Debate meeting (for which she has competed at the state level), or Marching Band rehearsal, it is safe to say Roopa is one busy 14-year-old. However, across all the organizations in which she has found herself, the thing that connects each of them is the dedication she has for every single thing she does. When asked to define herself in just one word, Roopa said – no surprise here – “dedicated.” Her teachers, family members, and peers would undoubtedly have the same answer. Her passion for education and all of the opportunities that have been presented to her allow Roopa to put her all into anything she decides to accomplish.
The future for Roopa is unquestionably a bright one. At the moment, she would like to think of herself as being a neurosurgeon one day; but she acknowledges that might change. Whatever it is she decides to take on, both in the tenth grade and in the world around her, you can guarantee it will be something worthwhile and awe-inspiring. Because, after all, when Roopa decides she is going to do something, you can bet she’s going to do it.
Clinton Bonilla, 5
Pre-K | The Rise School
Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is something Clinton Bonilla has been battling since birth. This means words and sounds that might come easily to other children are a little harder for Clinton.
At the beginning of this past school year, there were only about 20 different words he could pronounce confidently. Now, going into his second year at The Rise School, he has essentially tripled the number of words in his vocabulary and learns more every single day. Both his parents and teachers at The Rise School look up to Clinton in regard to how much work he puts into overcoming his speech disorder. The Rise School is a nonprofit organization that provides quality early childhood education services to all children 15 months to 6 years old, including children with developmental delays or disabilities.
Although Clinton faces hardships, he is constantly gaining more confidence in himself each and every day. Making new friends and playing on a local tee-ball team are two major ways in which he’s doing just that, and getting outside to play with his friends is a sure way to put a smile on his face.
Clinton also enjoys helping others who suffer from CAS. Just last year, he participated in the Apraxia Walk San Antonio, and finished as the top fundraiser. Lending a helping hand to other children like him allows Clinton to help give a voice to everyone – even those who might not be able to express themselves on their own.
All in all, this student is definitely on the rise, and we can’t wait to see where he goes next.
Elisa Peña, 18
College Freshman | Texas State University
With superlatives like "Most Creative" and "Best Laugh" attributed to her, it’s no surprise Elisa Peña brought a little extra sunshine into our office when she opened the door. Her bright red lipstick and contagious positivity allowed for smiles to form across the building.
Elisa just graduated from Veterans Memorial High School and will be attending her first college class in a few short weeks at Texas State University. Although she will be taking her talents elsewhere, Elisa made sure to leave her mark on the Coastal Bend before packing her bags for freshman year. Said mark includes designing Veterans’ first ever mural and two different yearbook covers. Plenty of extracurriculars – like President of Student Council, Historian of the National Honor Society, and Parliamentarian of the National Art Society – fill the lines of her resume; however, it is the less typical resume-building attributes to Elisa that are so meaningful.
Her ability to understand others is a trait not everyone obtains in their lifetime. Traveling the journey to success, for Elisa, is not possible without having empathy for others. “You need empathy to understand you and your path to success in the context of the people around you. Your success shouldn’t hurt the people close to you,” she says. She added those in her close circle tend to call her the “mom” of the group, because she truly loves to take care of everyone.
Whether it is through volunteering, offering emotional support to others, or simply spreading her positivity to anyone she encounters, Elisa is undoubtedly contributing a bright light to our future. One of the most telling reasons as to why this is the case can be perfectly encapsulated through her response to the question of what defines her: “I think my kindness defines me more than any of the titles I have held. Those titles will fade away from everyone’s consciousness as we go into the future; but the way I made people feel won’t, and I think that is important.”