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Mingus academic achievers strive for award
Written by Lu Stitt   
Wednesday, 25 February 2009 13:34

Parents and teachers know the students at Mingus Union High School are hard-working students. Now, thanks to the Strive for .5 program, everyone knows.

More than 300 sophomores, juniors and seniors received recognition and reward for their academic achievement Feb. 18. Strive for .5, sponsored by the Cottonwood Journal Extra, honors those students who increase their grade point average by half a point from one semester to the next. It goes on to reward students who do it twice, or three times, which is a stupendous feat, according to Director of Student Services Diane Uidenich.
One student did, however, achieve Strive for .5 for the third time: Abriana Serna. She received $100 from the Cottonwood Kiwanis Club. The Harman Avera Art Award of $40 went to junior Arturo Munoz.

Also part of the program are students who attain and maintain a 3.5 or better GPA.

Each student recognized received congratulations from the staff, the board and the administration along with a specially designed T-shirt and loud applause from the audience and their fellow recipients.

Certified Nurse Assistant instructor Kay Cooper stood on the sidelines at the end of the bleachers during the program. She was there to support five of her nine students who achieved a Strive for .5 award.

Another senior who received a large round of applause was Brian Connolly. He was recognized as a first-time Strive for .5 recipient.

Connolly has cerebral palsy as a result of a diabetic coma he suffered as a young child. He will graduate this year.

“The kids in class all work with him along with his wonderful aide, Carol Wilt. He has to work for his grades just like everyone else. It’s a struggle, but he’s made it,” mother Maria Connolly said.

Tasili Epperson designed the portrait of Bob Marley on the bright yellow T-shirts with the quote “Man is a universe within himself.”

Guest speaker, Tamara Addis, followed on the same theme that one can be or do anything no matter what life throws out. She talked about her road to Mingus — the successes, the trials, the good and bad experiences. She came to Mingus to teach mathematics in 2000.

“I grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional household. At the age of 17, I ran away from home,” she said, while explaining how nervous she was to speak before such a large group.

She graduated from high school and received a letter from the college she wanted to go to, but her mother told her she couldn’t go, so she walked out.

Addis enrolled at Santa Monica College and walked onto their track and made a reputation for herself. After two years, California State at Northridge asked her to come run for them. She did.

“I ran, studied and worked,” Addis told the students at Strive for .5.

Then she took an education course and the course of her life changed. Her first teaching job was at the 66th Street school in Los Angeles, which was in a not-so-good neighborhood. Police helicopters often flew over the school looking for criminals who would seek refuge on the campus, knowing the police would not shoot at them because of the children.

“We even got combat pay. It was quite an experience,” she said.

After surviving a rollover accident during an earthquake, Addis came to West Sedona School and taught physical education, then to Sedona Red Rock High School to teach math.

“Believe me, my struggles made me who I am today, and I know there are students here who are having similar struggles,” Addis told the audience, citing that if she could survive what happened in her life, anyone can survive the trials of their life.

“My advice to you today is to get involved in school. You are the master of your own universe,” Addis said.

Lu Stitt can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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