Part of the ECS Family

Senior Spotlights

At ECHS, students share similar experiences to their peers at traditional public schools, such as building friendships and balancing the demands of homework, after-school activities, and even part-time jobs. But our students graduate ECHS also having learned conceptual understandings and practical application of environmentalism, sustainability, social justice and what it means to use their personal experiences to work for a greater purpose outside of themselves. These graduating seniors in our spotlight not only achieved academic success and committed to exemplary schools such as Yale, Princeton, Cal and Wellesley, they also learned self-reflection, to look inward, to embrace their unique identities and to find their passions in life. Congratulations to all our seniors who worked hard, persevered and have the confidence to pursue their dreams. You inspire us!

Jennifer Banuelos

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge while in high school was balancing all the challenges of home life, the stress of school life, and the duties of social life. I overcame all this by moving forward.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS has been a harbor for great people – friends, teachers, and everything in between. The people have inspired and empowered me to get out into the world and it give my best. They’ve become my heroes.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
Attending my older sister’s graduation (Class of 2015), when I was a sophomore. I was just so excited to see where all the seniors were going to attend. I was most excited for my sister and her upcoming adventures at UC Irvine.

Who would you like to thank and why?
Everyone. There’s a quote that Mr. Pack always shared that started with, “Everything you touch you change.” Everyone at ECHS has changed me and helped me get to where I am today. Teachers, thank you for teaching me to love to learn. Friends, thank you for loving me. Staff, thank you for making ECHS the place I want to be at – most of the time.

Johana Leanos

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge was figuring out how much I was willing to risk for college. I’m an undocumented student so my path to college required me to always stay competitive. Sleepless nights and crazy schedules got me all the way to my dream school. Although, after the election, it became an uphill challenge to figure out if I should play it safe and stay in California for college or risk everything for my dream. Risking it is what got me this far so it’s what I decided to continue to do.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS helped motivate me to dream big and believe in my ability to succeed.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
On March 30, I opened college portals for the Ivy League Colleges in my Economics class. I was already mentally preparing myself to be rejected because I had already gotten lucky with my Williams College acceptance. Upon opening my portal for Columbia University, music started playing and I couldn’t breathe. I cried as the trumpets played and the words “Congratulations Class of 2021” appeared on the screen. I opened my Princeton Portal and started crying all over again at reading the word “Congratulations”. My dream had come true. All my hard work had paid off.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen?
Always keep your eye on your goal. High school is rough and you might feel like giving up, but don’t forget all your effort that has brought you up to this point.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would thank the one and only Mr. Michael Badulak for helping me find the courage to apologetically love my quirks and anomalies.

Tahj Lakey

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?

The toughest part of ECHS for me was coming to an understanding that my activism is not predicated on those who stand with me. If there is an issue worth fighting for, it is my responsibility to use my platform to advocate for change, regardless of who else stands up.

How has ECHS impacted you?
I can definitely say ECHS has helped me to cultivate my passions. I’ve been given a platform to advocate for myself and my community. This is apparent with the development of the Black Student Union and my participation with the Equity and Pedagogy Council. In turn, this has aided me in being comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Similarly, this has pushed me to continue pushing the envelope when I feel that my peers are being treated unfairly or being deprived of opportunities they deserve. I plan to continue being civically engaged in college because of the experiences I have had at ECHS.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
My most memorable moment in high school was the Junior Trip to the Los Padres National Forest. During this time, I was able to live “in the moment.” Typically, the pressures of high school are always on my mind, but during this trip I was forced to enjoy nature without the distractions that usually prevent me from doing this. It sounds cliche, but I felt both emotionally and spiritually balanced.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen?
Some people are in your life for a reason, and some only for a season. Cherish every friendship, but be okay when you part ways with someone you were once close to.

Who would you like to thank and why?
My Spanish teacher and Black Student Union (BSU) mentor Sarah Diaz who instilled in me the importance of my voice as a young person of color and the danger of being silent in the face of injustice. She continually provokes me to be critical of social constructs and to speak against the oppression of other groups. Therefore, I have developed a strong sense of accountability for those around me.

Ms. Wyche has kept me on my toes both academically and as an individual. She constantly reminds me to recognize the privileges I have and use them to create change. Also, I appreciate that she is always trying to improve herself by requesting student input and implementing the feedback.

Mr. Lakey for being supportive and using his humor and experiences to create an inclusive environment inside and outside classroom.

Carolyn Lam

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
I grew up in a very conservative Asian American household and there were a lot of transitional moments that happened during high school, especially because I am a first generation college student. I had to do a lot of things on my own because my family could not support or understand my journey. I had to learn how to ask for help and advocate for myself. I am confident when I go off to college I will have the skills I need to succeed. ECHS has taught me about how important my voice is and to never let anyone else tell my story. I have had so many amazing opportunities because of ECHS and it has served as groundwork for my political and social ambitions.

How has ECHS impacted you?
I am able to handle a lot more challenging things academically and socially. I have grown to be more confident and believe in myself. Through my experience at ECHS I can present in front of people without feeling nervous or flustered. I have also found my passion for service learning and being an advocate for my community.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
The moment I realized I wanted to go to college was in my sophomore Biology class when my teacher posed the question, “Why is it dangerous to never come back to your community after you have pursued higher education?” Our teacher was making the point of how many people dream of escaping their community instead of bringing their knowledge back to improve it. That moment made me think of myself as an advocate. Academia and advocacy are the foundations of change. This newfound empowerment helped me overcome my biggest challenge in high school which was coming to terms with my identity.

Who would you like to thank and why?
During my time at ECHS there have been many people who have influenced me. I would like to thank Ms. Rivera who has supported me as my advisor. She always manages to make me smile and gives great life advice. She is not afraid to share her struggles with her students and it has created a deeper bond and personal connection. I would also like to thank my Green Ambassadors mentor Sammy Lyon. Over the past three years, Sammy has patiently helped me bloom into the advocate I am today and has managed to create an atmosphere of family and openness in the Green Ambassadors Internship. When it comes to academic teachers Mr. Badulak has hands down changed my life. I took AP Environmental Science with him and it was the hardest class I’ve ever taken. The class was difficult for me because I had to think beyond the classroom and beyond myself. He’s taught me that there’s more to life than just school and at the end of the day if you’re not being the best version of yourself, you are wasting your time. I deeply appreciated his honesty and wisdom.

Lastly, I would like to thank Ms. Diaz. She has taught me to never accept the status quo and to truly implement the change I want to see in my community. She has taught me that my culture and community will keep my grounded as I go on to pursue my dreams. All of these teachers have left lasting life lessons on me and I hope I make them proud!

What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduation I am looking forward to interning for South Coast Air Quality Management District. I am very excited to learn about policy making and public outreach. I have been very interested in politics and policy making for awhile now and hopefully I can get a sense of the work that goes into it. I plan to work all summer and catch up on a lot of reading.

Selena Melgoza

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge in high school would have been during my first semester of senior year. I had put anlot of activities and classes on my plate along with working and it drained me completely. However, after communicating with teachers and finding new ways to manage my time I was able to get through first semester!

How has ECHS impacted you?
I believe ECHS had a major impact on my life. In this environment I realized what one of my passions are which helped me chose my major. Additionally, ECHS brought me closer to individuals that I now consider family.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
My most memorable time in high school would be the trip to Yosemite. I love nature and had never been to Yosemite, it was beautiful. I spent time with friends, enjoyed the outdoors, and was stress free.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen?
Everything may seem hard right now but you can get through it all. If you ever feel like something is not possible you need to take a step back and just relax for a second, then create plan. Don’t think that you have to do everything on your own, you have people around you who can help you even if you may feel like you don’t. Try, make the effort and you will get where you need to be.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would love to thank Ms. Banuelos for being such an amazing individual and for supporting me throughout my senior year. Love ya!

Fernanda Mendoza

What was your toughest challenge in high school? And how did you overcome it?
I think one of my toughest challenges in high school was having such a pessimistic mentality which would lead to unnecessary stress and breakdowns I brought upon myself. I was able to overcome it by realizing that others were undergoing similar situations and changing my mentality by looking at more positive aspects.

How has ECHS impacted you?
The ECHS community allowed me to feel as if everyone was going through similar struggles and helped me feel encouraged to push through. I already had the college mentality however ECHS helped me actually achieve that goal through actual support and countless hours of advice, making my aspirations feel more tangible.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
My College Match trip to the East coast was an eye opener to the opportunities available through education and how much there is to experience when you are away from home.

Who would you like to thank and why?
First off, I’d like to thank my parents for providing everything whether materialistic or morally to get me up to this point. In addition I’d like to thank my friends because without them I wouldn’t have had a community to directly relate to and share the good and bad experiences that made up my high school years. Lastly, I appreciate the teachers that were there to address my questions and concerns.

Carlos Arian Cuuvas Terrazas

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
Senior year was my toughest year, I realized that I had to buckle down and put in the work.

How has ECHS impacted you?
It helped me realize that nothing in life is easy and if you wait too long it just becomes harder and life continues whether you like it or not.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
Honestly having lunch with my friends and talking about the most random things!

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen?
Don’t procrastinate and just think positive.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would like to thank all the counselors for working with me and I would also like to thank Carol, Tony, and Ms. Gower for always being there for me when I doubted myself also I would like to thank Mrs. Horowitz and Mrs. Davis for making my senior year a little less stressful !! I would like to thank all my friends for really being my support system.

Juan Sanchez

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My Senior Thesis was the hardest part of ECHS, it motivated me to work harder.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS helped to prepare me for college and made me come out of my shell.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
The Senior Trip to Yosemite

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen?
The teachers usually do accept late work even when they say they don’t.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would like to thank Ms. Banuelos and Ms. Lacey for believing in me.

Gabriel Davis

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
Senior thesis, it just took a lot of repetitive work.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS helped to push me to discover my dreams, work hard, and get into a good college.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
Making it to the 2nd round of the baseball championships.

Hannarei Kinsey

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge in high school would have to be taking more than one AP classes in junior year. It was a lot of work but I made sure I went to tutoring and worked as hard as I can to get through that year. I’m truly proud of myself that I was able to handle the workload of all my classes.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS has better prepared me for college with the SAT prep books and lessons.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
My most memorable moment in high school would have to be participating in the Lip Off in sophomore year. I was pretty shy and reserved but I gave it my all, wore a crazy costume, and performed with my friends. We ended up getting 2nd place which as a surprise for all of us since we practiced only once.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen?
That it’s okay to fail! Learn from your failures and become a better person from your experiences.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would like to give a huge shout out to my college counselors because without them and the class senior seminar I would have not gotten into my college. I appreciate all the hard work my teachers and counselors have done for me. I would personally like to thank my amazing friends that have been there for me and made me laugh during lunch. I am truly grateful to have found such inspiring group of people. I will definitely cherish our friendship for years to come. Last, but not least, I would like to thank my mother. She has been the most supportive, loving, and strongest woman I know. I appreciate everything you have done for me in the past four years of high school. You have made me the woman that I am today.

Jacqueline Robinson

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge in high school was procrastinating. While I haven’t fully overcome this obstacle, I have learned how to be better at keeping myself accountable by creating to do lists.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS’ role in getting me to this point in my life is providing me with multiple struggles and forcing me to work from them. ECHS has taught me that stress can be managed and no matter what, I have to keep moving forward, through failures and frustrations.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
I can’t honestly recall a most memorable moment in high school that was academic…I’d say that it was me becoming an independent woman and allowing myself to live my life by cutting negative energy out of it.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen
My piece of advice to incoming freshman is that high school is what you make of it. Do your best is #1, and just being honest with yourself will allow for better outcomes; no one can take that away from you.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would like to thank the teachers that helped me get through rough days and showed that they cared about me. Special thanks to Ms. Lacey for allowing me to reach a higher potential and helping me lift a heavy weight that was on my shoulders this senior year. And lastly, shoutout to the sidewalks, for keeping me off the streets.

Alejandro Sanchez

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
For sure it would be passing AP Calculus, although I actually liked it, the class really hit me hard; I had to really accept that failure was a possible outcome. I overcame it by, just working myself harder, really spending time doing the work to understand it.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS has really pushed me past any preconceived limits by constantly pushing me and never really giving me a minute to catch my breathe. I believe this mimics life so it really helped me build up a durability of sorts and taught me how strong I really am.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
Definitely the Lip Off. A couple of my friends and I performed for this event and it really brought me closer to them as people and it made me realize how much I cared for them.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen
Enjoy the four years you have ahead of you. High school is a hard, messy, difficult experience, but one I would not trade for the world.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would like to thank Mr. Badulak for constantly bringing up new perspectives and writing the Letter of Rec that helped me land a spot at UCSB.

Arlena Ortiz

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge was trying to pass all my classes and still be on top of my work at home and at school.

How has ECHS impacted you?
The role of responsibility and being confident in who you are.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
My most memorable moment in high school would have to be at lunch time when all my friends would hang out at a specific table and have laughs and crack jokes and just spread good vibes overall.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen
Don’t fall behind or fail in your school work. Always stay five steps ahead.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would like to thank Ms. Lacey for always being there for me since middle school and still being there for me to this day.

Brenda Ramirez

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge was math, to overcome this I worked with our supportive math teachers to get tutoring.

How has ECHS impacted you?
Aiding me and preparing me for college

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
All Intersession Community Forum Days.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen
Always have confidence in what you are doing. Enter a situation with a positive mindset.

Who would you like to thank and why?
Mr. Lakey for being a supportive advisory teacher

Claudia Cordova

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge in high school was finding the motivation to studying for tests.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS made me realize what I wanted to do when I got older. It also taught me how to become a better presenter.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
Just being able to hang out with friends and family. They let me have fun while still going to school and getting good grades.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen
What you do now will affect you as a senior, so give it all you can.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would like to thank my family, specifically my sisters, because they let me experience different things while still going to school and getting my school work done.

Frances Gealon

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
Toughest challenge I had to overcome was taking AP Environmental Sciences, this class challenged my mental capacity. I overcame it by being open to new ideas.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS helped me be open to learning new things as well as being able to speak up for things I believed in.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
My most memorable moment in high school was helping start the volleyball team on campus my sophomore year.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen
Enjoy your time in high school because you’ll meet people that will make an impact on your life.

Who would you like to thank and why?
This goes out to Mrs. Horowitz. Thank you for being a second mother to me by always keeping me positive and giving me words of wisdom. I love you so much.

Karina Villagrana

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
The toughest challenge for me was managing my education and extracurricular activities. How I overcame this challenge was by asking for help when needed and going to tutoring hours. I was able to learn to manage my time by planning out my week and getting tasks done.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS has allowed me to obtain opportunities and I am greatly appreciative for my school. I was able to get into extracurricular activities and complete an internship over the summer with the Nature Conservancy. I was able to gain insight of what I want to do in future through these opportunities.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
My most memorable experience has to be our senior trip to Yosemite National Park. It was the most memorable for me because I’ve never been to Yosemite and I was able to hike with my friends. Also, the snow was amazing and we had many snowball fights.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen
Don’t procrastinate and you got this!!!!!!

Who would you like to thank and why?
Thank you to all of my teachers who have motivated me and for teaching m the value of education. A special shout out to Gross, Sterrett, Ms. Diaz, and Sra. Hernandez.

Saul Rodriguez

What was your toughest challenge in high school and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge would have to be dealing with people, knowing who to surround yourself with to overcome obstacles in your life and to have a support group that actually helps better yourself.

How has ECHS impacted you?
ECHS helped me by pushing me into doing what I have to do to graduate, they set up a blueprint for me even if at times it was a little rough.

What was your most memorable moment at ECHS?
My most memorable moments in high school are probably the camping trips we take with our friends it allowed us to create memories not a lot of people have with each other.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen
Don’t listen to people, do what makes you happy, because you’re the only person that has to deal with the outcome of things.

Who would you like to thank and why?
I would like to thank the teachers for their support because they helped push the students to success.


Although we’ve shone a spotlight on only a few students in this article, we would like to congratulate the entire graduating Class of 2017 and recognize all of their hard work, dedication and accomplishments at Environmental Charter High School! Good luck to all of you in what is sure to be a bright future!