Artiles named ‘Student of the Year’
When eighth-grader Jennifer Artiles was recognized Thursday morning as “Student of the Year” for the Cape Coral Police Department’s Do the Right Thing program, her reaction was surprise and her response unpretentious.
“I know there’s other kids that really deserve it,” she said.
The Do the Right Thing program recognizes students in the community who do good things. That can mean exemplary behavior, improving school grades, volunteering, helping someone in need or excelling in a worthwhile endeavor, according to the CCPD’s Web site. Each month nominees are selected to win.
Jennifer, a student at Challenger Middle School, was one of eight students honored in February as a Do the Right Thing winner. At the end of the school year, the CCPD picks a “Student of the Year” from all of its monthly winners. The selected student gets a trophy, prize package and $1,000 savings bond.
Cindy Naumann, the CCPD’s community outreach program coordinator, said the department had about 133 students awarded during the 2009-10 school year. The Do the Right Thing program’s board of directors, made up of Police Chief Rob Petrovich and others, picked Jennifer to win Student of the Year.
“We had several instances of heroism,” Naumann said. “We saw a lot of great actions that were one-time instances, very positive for a particular event.
“But they felt that Jennifer’s actions were ongoing,” she said. “Despite all the issues that she’s facing, she’s keeping her grades up, she’s still got all As, and she’s facing the challenges.”
Jennifer’s mother, Marilyn Luque, was diagnosed with breast cancer about two years ago and she continues to fight it. In an advanced stage, the cancer has spread to several organs, which requires Jennifer to accompany Luque to Miami each week for chemotherapy treatment. Jennifer is constantly by her mother’s side and must interpret for her father, Orlando Artiles.
Neither her father nor mother speak fluent English.
Jennifer has missed school because of the trips but never makes excuses, according to her family and school officials. She maintains a 4.0 grade point average and she remains focused in class. Jennifer is polite and respectful, and never has a negative comment nor looks down on anyone.
At home, Jennifer does her mother’s housework and helps her father with food preparation. She also cares for her 5-year-old brother, Christopher, by reading to him and helping him with his homework. In response to everything she does, Jennifer explained that all children have to do chores and help out.
“I do just a little more,” she said. “I have to be on top of my mom in case she needs anything.”
According to Jennifer, her mother was always there for her when Luque was healthy, taking care of Jennifer when she was sick or needed anything. She is now simply doing what her mother did for her. But, Jennifer added, she is still staying focused on her school work so she can go to college — Harvard, Yale and Stanford — and become a doctor — an oncologist, in particular.
Orlando Artiles expressed pride in his daughter Thursday.
Using a translator, Artiles noted all the things Jennifer does for her family and around the house, only to go to school and be a great student. He said he does not understand how his daughter has the strength to do it all but know that she worries. Artiles hopes the recognition will show her how appreciated she is and give Jennifer the strength to continue on with what she is doing.
Challenger Middle School Assistant Principal Jean Donlon has worked with Jennifer two years in a row, serving as the eighth-grade administrator this year and the seventh-grade administrator last year. She called Jennifer the “most deserving student” that she knows for the award and recognition.
“She shows compassion and empathy,” Donlon said. “She works hard and shows a willingness to succeed.
“Even with the situation, the way it is with her mom being ill and everything,” she said. “She’s still smiling. She believes that everything’s going to be OK.”
Donlon added that she is “ectatic” Jennifer was chosen, that “words can’t express it.
“Even with everything that Jennifer’s going through, she’s still very deserving of this award,” she said, adding that Jennifer is on the “gifted team” and received the principal’s award last year.
Donlon said Jennifer shows her peers that “when you work hard, good things come to you.
“She’s not a kid that says, ‘Oh feel sorry for me,'” she said.
Principal Teri Cannady echoed that.
“Jennifer is a great student. She’s been here all three years,” she said. “With the adversity she’s going through, she’s still keeping up her grades.”
Melissa Binsfeld, a reading teacher at Challenger Middle School, nominated Jennifer for the Do the Right Thing program. Binsfeld had Jennifer when she was in sixth grade and again this year. She expressed happiness at Jennifer receiving the Student of the Year award.
“I am so thankful and excited for Jen,” Binsfeld said.
“She is just an exemplary person, going through this with her mother,” she said. “She’s just mature beyond her years.”
On Thursday, Jennifer thanked the school staff who have helped her.
“They’ve made everything that’s gone wrong easier to handle,” she said.
According to Naumann, all of the Do the Right Thing winners from four law enforcement agencies will be honored at an annual picnic at 11 a.m., April 24, at Lakes Park in South Fort Myers. The Fort Myers Police Department, Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Collier County Sheriff’s Office also operate the program and pick a Student of Year.
“It’s just going to be a fun event,” Naumann said.
The fourth year for the picnic, the event will recognize the student winners and feature a barbeque, helicopter landing and K-9 Units, among other things. The agencies once held a banquet to mark the occasion, but students were getting left out of the festivities.
“We wanted the end of the year event to be something where we could invite every student and not leave anyone out,” Naumann said. “We can re-enforce to every student that we are proud of what they have done and hope that they continue on with their positive actions.”