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South Valley Journal

A Santos success story: Summit student getting national attention

May 07, 2018 01:06PM ● By Jet Burnham

Junior Esther Santos is a success story for her academic performance, mental health and heritage. (Suzanne Santos/Summit Academy High School)

When Suzanne Santos, counselor at Summit Academy High School, implemented the Hope Squad three years ago, she never expected it to touch her life personally.

“Hope Squad has come full circle,” said Suzanne. Her daughter, Esther Santos, attends the school and even served on the Hope Squad, which encourages teens to tell an adult when a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts. Santos didn’t know Esther was struggling with depression until one of Esther’s friends followed Hope Squad training and reported it to the counseling center. Suzanne realized the environment she had created saved her daughter.

SAHS students have been able to get past the stigma of mental illness to help each other, she said. This had made it easier for Esther.

“The mental illness makes you not want to talk about it, but once you talk about it, it’s going to get better,” Esther said. 

Esther is doing better, thanks to her friends’ and family’s support. She credits goal-setting for keeping herself moving forward. 

Esther’s recent achievements are impressive for any high school junior. She earned an impressive 97 out of 99 on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) and scored in the top 1 percent in the nation on her PSAT.

And now she is gaining national recognition.

“She’s had Harvard and Yale and all these big, impressive schools reach out to her,” said Suzanne.

Esther has also been invited to participate in the National Hispanic Recognition Program, which promotes academically successful Hispanic students to top universities and colleges.

Initially, Esther was reluctant to accept the recognition. She feels she shouldn’t be given special privileges just because her father is from Brazil.

“I love the culture, but I've just never been a really big part of it,” Esther said. She feels her story isn’t the same as many Hispanics who have had to overcome struggles—like her father, who immigrated at age 19 and surmounted many challenges to build a successful life in a foreign country.

“Hispanics and Latinos do work really hard, and that is something I’m really proud of about my Brazilian culture—even though I have complicated feelings about it,” she said.

Esther believes race should not affect one’s ability to achieve his or her goals. She appreciates the NHRP as an incentive for students to take responsibility and work hard for their education.

 “Pick what you want in life and get it,” she said. “If there’s something stopping you, there’s always a way around it, no matter what your background is.”

Both her parents have been role models of hard work and perseverance. Her mom, who has a master’s degree in educational psychology, is currently working on second MA degree required for licensure. Her father taught himself English and various computer languages to become the successful computer programmer he is today.

“Whatever they do, they give it their all,” Esther said. “It’s shown me that no matter what path I decide to take in life, as long as I work hard at it, I can become valuable.”

Esther has worked hard at setting and accomplishing goals.

“I don’t have to push her at all,” Suzanne said. “She’s really self-propelled. This year has been rough—still she's been able to achieve so much and do amazing things in spite of that.”

Esther loves European history and hopes to study international relations. Her junior year has been focused on the Advanced Placement Capstone Program, where she is taking several upper-level classes.

Scott Pettit, history teacher at SAHS, said Esther is a natural leader and an example to other students.

“Esther is one of those students that is very unique in every way,” said Pettit. “She doesn’t brag about her accomplishments, but she definitely displays it. When it's her turn, she shows she has capabilities that most of her peers do not.”