By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — When Desteny Gonzalez gets home from school, she immediately does her homework and after having dinner with her family, she relaxes by getting lost in a book.
Her hard work has paid off.
Desteny, 10, was one of 11 fourth-graders at Family Development Charter School who received a framed proclamation and a letter of congratulations from President Barack Obama for their academic achievements. Nineteen students in eighth grade were also recognized by Obama.
The other fourth-graders were: Angelis Casanova, Alenairam Castillo, Hecmely Ferreiras, Jose Nunez, Chantelle Pena, Oliver Piantini, Andrew Azzi, Kevin Matos, Isatys Perez and Josue Rosario.
“Nothing will have a greater impact on your success — and the success of our nation — than the knowledge and skills you gain in the classroom,” Obama wrote. “Your future is in your hands, and as long as you stay focused on your studies, there is not a single thing you cannot accomplish.”
Ralph Carrero, director and superintendent at Lawrence Family Development Charter School, was not surprised at the number of fourth-graders receiving accolades from Obama.
“I’m very proud of our fourth-graders. They are academically strong, very articulate, knowledgeable and pretty much bilingual,” Carrero said.
To receive the presidential excellence award, Carrero said students must have a grade-point average of 90 or above, have a proficient or advanced rating on English language arts and mathematics, and have an attendance rate of 95 percent or above.
Desteny fit every criteria. She maintained a 97 percent attendance average this year, missing school only five days when her doctor kept her home because she had the flu. Her grade-point average in all core courses was over 90 percent: Math, 97; writing, 95.75; reading, 95.25; science, 97.67 and Spanish, 96.75. She also received the Model Student Award each quarter this year.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was so nervous and my heart was beating very fast,” Desteny said of Obama’s letter. “This award means a lot to me because of the hard work and effort I put in school.”
Although she is only in the fourth grade, Desteny said she wants to excel in elementary school to improve her chances of getting into a prestigious high school like Phillips Academy and an Ivy League university such as Harvard.
Desteny said her older sisters, Sherylin Pena and Desiree Gonzalez, both alumni of the charter school are her role models, as well as her parents, Evelyn Alvarez and Eduardo Gonzalez.
“I cried when she received the award,” Alvarez said. “I’ve always talked to them about the importance of education and if they study hard, they can achieve any goal.”
“(Alavarez) wants us to strive for what she couldn’t accomplish and wants to give us what she didn’t have,” said Sherylin, a student at Middlesex Community College. Her sister is a junior at Notre Dame High School.
Desteny was not the only fourth-grader at the charter school who excelled in reading. Angelis read 136 books; Alenairam, 224; Hecmely, 77; Jose, 104; Chantelle, 94; Oliver, 128; Andrew, 158; Kevin, 249; Isatys, 41; and Josue read 223 books.
Carrero said students at Family Development Charter School are taught the importance of reading as young as kindergarten.
In addition to the reading program, Carrero credits the students’ success with enrolling in kindergarten at age 4, instead of the traditional age of 5.
“Hers will be the first class to graduate after being in the two-year kindergarten program,” Carrero said. “It’s absolutely incredible what happens when they start kindergarten at age 4. When they advance to first grade, they are reading at a second- or third-level. With the academic foundation they have, imagine what they’ll do when they go to the eighth grade.”
Eighth-graders receiving the president’s award were: Muna Abdulle, Relinet Jaquez, Frances Reyes, Genesis Paz-Mondesi, Mariana Perez, Isabella Saldarriaga, Adriana Tejada, Brandor Matos, Kevin Ventura, Jamie Nunez, Jeralyn Lora, Estarlyn Hiraldo, Jennifer Henriquez, Ana DeLeon, Celeste Cruz, Andreina Bernabel, Elsie Anziani, Nelselly Alsina and Genesis Paulino.