GREENBELT – As her name was called, Heaven Perry gleefully strolled onto the red carpet in the middle of the Martin’s Crosswinds ballroom in Greenbelt. The audience gave the Tanglewood Regional School student a rousing ovation as she smiled and walked toward the front of the stage.
For a moment, Angela Perry, her mother, said she forgot about the troubles her foster daughter dealt with on a daily basis with cerebral palsy. However, since adopting Perry two years ago, Angela has seen her daughter work hard to overcome her disability. This year, Perry joined the safety patrol and started practicing reading aloud in her fifth-grade class.
“(Heaven) came a long way,” Angela said. “She had been bounced from home to home, and when I adopted her, she finally felt like she belonged. And I am so proud of her.”
The night became the culmination of Perry’s hard work as she received the Comeback Kid of the Year award. Perry was one of 28 award receipts at the fourth annual Board Awards on May 18, presented by the Prince George’s County Board of Education (BOE).
Guests were surrounded with gold decorations which filled the ballroom, creating the feel of a Hollywood awards banquet. Students, parents and teachers dressed to impress for the occasion and had the opportunity to take a red-carpet style photo shoot. Music from the Prince George’s County Public School Legion of Jazz provided an upscale environment for all to enjoy.
More than 300 nominees were submitted from area schools before the parent advisory council decided the winner. Dignitaries from the state, county and board representatives presented the nominee certificates, and a statue was given to the winner.
Adding to the star power at the event, the mistress of ceremonies was Eleanor Roosevelt High School alumna and WUSA 9 reporter Mikea Turner. The “Wake-Up Washington” anchor announced each student to the stage.
“We have some folks who have important titles here with us, but the most important people are the young people who we are to celebrate today,” said Segun Eubanks, BOE chair. “You are the true dignitaries. These Board Awards are about recognizing excellence, resilience and achievement.”
For Leyla Pineda-Osorio, 11, from Ardmore Elementary School, the recognition was unexpected. The fifth-grader, who is known for using Spanish-speaking skills to help visiting parents to tutor students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, was stunned to see the nomination arrive in the mail addressed to her.
“When my mom came home, and she opened it, I was surprised because she mostly gets things from the mail,” Pineda-Osorio said. The invitation was her first piece of mail she had ever received.
Her face illuminated when she was announced as the winner of Spirit of Service of the Year award for her volunteer work all over the school. Her mother, Esmeralda, is proud of her daughter’s community activism, praising how she is becoming an example for the rest of her family.
“I love to help other people, and I want to inspire them,” Pineda-Osorio said.
For one high school in particular, the evening was a success. Three out of five nominated students from the International High School of Langley Park (IHSLP) nominated students received an award. The school, which serves recent immigrant arrivals to help them adjust to the American education system, can be lost within the county’s educational ecosystem, Principal Carlos Beato said.
The recognition of its students’ success is a reminder that their alternative curriculum is working, Beato said.
“I love it there,” Tenth-grader Heyzel Padilla, who won the Student Leadership of the Year award, said. “We get to do a lot of exciting things, and we are allowed to anything. I became the secretary for (the school’s SGA) last year and then became vice-president, so it has provided me a great experience.”
Even though he has aspirations to attend Loyola University Maryland to become an English teacher, Hender Galeas was unsure if he would win the Student Excellence award. In his opinion, his progress as a student was not sufficient enough compared to the other nominees, specifically Northwestern High School senior Bethelihem Tebase, who was accepted to Princeton University.
However, Galeas’ story was hard to ignore. Originally from San Miguel, El Salvador, he joined his family in the United States in 2015 after he allegedly received threats from the gangs surrounding the neighborhood. He quickly took advantage of the educational opportunities in IHSLP and learned English soon through practice with his teachers and conversations with strangers.
“I think I was chosen for all the time and energy I have put into making this dream possible while helping my classmates in the process,” Galeas said. “I hope my friends and family think I deserved it and now that I have this (award), I feel like I earned it.”