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Yes I Can! Winners

The Yes I Can! Awards honor students with exceptionalities. These awards celebrate the achievements of children and youth with exceptionalities; encourage these individuals to seek their highest potential; and increase public awareness of the abilities, aspirations, and personal qualities of those with disabilities.

2018 Yes I Can! Winners

Tommy Leung – Transition/Vocational Training

Access SFUSD: The Arc San Francisco, CA

Nominated by Heidi Seretan


Skylar Smith – Self-Advocacy

Martin Luther King High School – Riverside, CA

Nominated by Lisa Masi


Stephanie Mayorga – Technology

Blackford Elem. – San Jose, CA

Nominated by Leslie Anido


Mark Arone Zarasate – School and Community Activities

La Sierra High School – Riverside, CA

Nominated by Kathleen Tejeda



Past Winners

Yael Saavedra – School and Community Activities

Yael Saavedra

“Yael is an active member and leader in both of my clubs (NoVi DREAMers and Child Leadership Project).  I have always been impressed by her wit and resilience. Two months ago we took a trip to UCR for a spoken word poetry night. Yael wrote a poem in 10 minutes, took the stage during open mic and delivered her poem in front of 50 college students” –Juan M. Chavez

Yael was born with atresia of the right ear and normal hearing in her left.  She never treated her disability as an excuse but a driving force. In 2008, right after Yael’s surgery, she helped with a video project promoting the use of the Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA).  Her volunteer work helped many younger and older DHH students who were thinking of getting the BAHA.  Unfortunately, by the time she reached 8th grade, she was no longer able to use her BAHA due to infections.  In 2015, Yael volunteered for another video project describing the ups and downs of her experience with the BAHA.  This first-hand information aided families and other DHH individuals in making informed decisions.

Yael is sharp, not just academically but socially as well.  In order to function in groups like AVID or Child Leadership Project, Yael describes a strategy she uses. “In a group, I position (myself) where I hear better. I move when walking to my better side and just say, ‘I like walking on the other side’.”  During our DHH team meetings, I know I can always count on Yael. She shares her strategies and acknowledges the struggles the deaf and hard of hearing students face together; not alone.  When Yael started Track and Field, then added more clubs along with her rigorous coursework, I have to admit; I was a little nervous.  But she took it all on with an unstoppable drive.  She knew what she needed on her college resume.  She knew what her community needed. And, she knew what she needed.  She wanted to become more outgoing and outspoken. She befriended students who exuded those qualities and made them her own.  She takes chances and seeks out opportunities.


Davion Williams – Self-Advocacy

Davion Williams

Davion is an amazing young man. His mother died when he was in 7th grade of heart failure. His father is incarcerated. After his mother died his aunt became his guardian. However, due to family struggles and conflicts Davion moved from one family member to the next. He has lived in hotels and in multiple family members’ homes. After his mother died he went through very hard times and was very angry. His behavior at school was a challenge as he was trying to cope with the unimaginable circumstances that fell upon him. He did not attend school for an entire year during 9th grade. He came to my school district in 10th grade and was a year behind. After coming to school at the BRIDGES Academy Program he did not miss one day of school in 2 years. Last year Davion moved to live with a Cousin in the city of Compton but his school was located in the city of Cerritos. He took public transportation to school every day on a bus for over an hour to get to school.   and through the supports that were provided to him and the caring staff he has blossomed and has become an amazing example of self-determination and self-advocacy.

Davion had perfect school attendance for 2 consecutive years. He had earned a GPA of 3.8. He was part of the school leadership team. He held the position of classroom manager where he assists teachers and para educators with classroom duties and mentoring other students. He participated in the ABC USD Work Readiness Program and worked at various jobs including Party City, TJ Max and currently he has found independent employment with Compton Airport. Davion plans to enlist in the Air Force. Davion was the recipient of a $2500 D.R.E.A.M.S. Scholarship. Davion is an amazing singer and dancer with a larger than life personality. He brings a smile to everyone’s face. He makes everyone laugh. I am so proud of Davion.


Jorge Delgado – Technology

Jorge Delgad

“I found it difficult to understand what one is saying or talking about because I hear certain words that come from others but not all of them”.  Jorge confided.  Jorge is presently a Junior, soon-to-be, Senior at La Sierra High School.  Jorge has received services from the speech and language specialist, educational specialist and deaf and hard of hearing itinerant teacher.  Jorge was born with an unilateral moderate to severe conductive hearing loss secondary to atresia in the left ear.

Jorge uses his sense of humor to deflect when he has not heard an entire conversation. He smiles handsomely but inwardly he becomes frustrated.  This year, Jorge has begun wearing his Bone Anchored Hearing aid band and using Dynamic Sound Field systems to better enhance his listening. 

Jorge is a risk taker. When approached with the idea of trying a BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) band, he decided to  met with his doctor and get fitted.  He didn’t try it out until we were safely in his case carrier’s room.  He was nervous but excited.  “I broke into tears. I was finally able to feel what other people feel when they listen. Even to the most little things, I was able to hear.” Jorge recalled.

With this new technology, he delved into the manual connecting it to bluetooth technology accessing his phone and music.  It had such clarity that it was striking.

He then wanted more. Jorge followed up with his doctor and is set to receive the first magnetic BAHA in Alvord this Summer! Most BAHA’s are implanted with an abutment that looks like a snap on the skull. His will be magnetic with no abutment.

La Sierra High School is a part of Jorge’s success through collaboration and ongoing communication between his case carrier, DHH itinerant teacher, general education teachers and support staff. We provide him with the technology required for him  to achieve the same level of academic competency as his typically developing peers. When new technology becomes mainstream, we provide Jorge with the opportunity to test out new equipment, and then utilize it in his daily routines. His teachers also support him through using the new sound fields during class instruction which allows for Jorge to be more independent.

Jorge’s accomplishments occur at home and at school. The greatest impact he has, however, is here at La Sierra High School. Creating the “How to Use the Phonak Dynamic Soundfield Digimaster 5000”  video for our general education teachers, demonstrating its use and sharing the importance of  using it correctly, impacts hundreds of students across campus.


Mohammed Alhour – Transition

Mohammed Alhour

Mohammed is currently receiving special education services. He is enrolled in the Adult Transition Program within South San Francisco Unified School District. This program utilizes a supported employment model to place Mohammed in appropriate work, community and school settings, and teach the skills necessary for success in various settings. All instruction takes place in integrated, age appropriate, functional, community based settings.

Mohammed’s love for the program shows as he is the first one who arrives at school every day and greets the staff independently. His communication skills have improved a lot by responding verbally to other’s comments and, at times, in a humorous way instead of just using gestures. He also actively engages with his peers and staff and talks about his favorite sports instead of just being a passive participant. He expresses himself more, although he still has some trouble at times. His classmates seem to love hanging out with him. Through this improved communication, Mohammed has started to advocate for himself. This is a major improvement for him because he was always shy and did not ask anything. He requested to job sites that he loves and makes a great impact to the customer.  In addition, he is also a big part of the basketball team in Skyline Community College where he is currently enrolled.  His team mates and coach love him to be a part of their team for three years now.


Andrei McAllister – Academics

Andrei McAllister

Andrei is an amazing 13 year old who was three years old when he was first diagnosed with selective mutism, and placed in a severely handicapped class. After a month, his teacher said that he was make an incredible progress and he was going to be placed in a less restrictive environment. His diagnosis changed to a Language Disorder. When he was in kindergarden he was also diagnosed with ADHD. He then received The Scholastic Achievement Award by The State of California for Outstanding Achievement Improvement for the school year 2009-2010.

When Andrei was in second grade, he was able to move to General Education with Special Education Services. Due to his disabilities, Andrei was bullied at school, once that when his mom went to pick him up at school, he was on the ground, and two kids were kicking him over and over. Andrei started to go to Karate and he is now a brown belt, one belt away from being a black belt.

Andrei’s progress at school started to decline when he was in 4th grade, and we were informed that it was possible that Andrei had a brain tumor. After multiple evaluations, Andrei, fortunately did not have a brain tumor, and was diagnosed with multiple cognitive disabilities.

Even though school has been very hard for Andrei, at his transition meeting from sixth grade to junior high school, he was the only student ever on IEP to be able take 2 electives periods. He has also opened the door for other students who have an IEP to take electives course at the school.


Cricket Bidleman – Academics

Cricket Bidleman

Cricket Bidleman is a high school junior at Morro Bay High School, and she is on a mission. The majority of her classes are AP level. She settles for nothing less than an “A” on an assignment or test. Her favorite class this year is AP Physics, which makes sense; her long-term educational goal is to get a PhD in Physics from Stanford.

It’s an impressive story, especially for a student like Cricket…who happens to be blind, and has been since birth.

Cricket goes to a regular public high school. She happens to be the only student there who cannot see. Her challenges are many, but to Cricket they are minor annoyances. She travels without help on campus, sweeping her white travel cane in front of her while pulling her suitcase on wheels behind. The suitcase is filled with voluminous braille books, brailled assignments, an array of specialized tech, and much more.

Cricket does not need a special assistant in her classes, just the same access to curriculum as her peers. She receives her materials in braille, and her only special service on campus is her teacher of the visually impaired who checks in once per week to make sure she has access to class materials. Cricket receives support from teachers who expect no less from her than anyone else. Again, there is no need to modify curriculum, but simply make it accessible. And Cricket is masterful at advocating for herself if she isn’t given her materials at the same time as the rest of the class.

Cricket is an inspiration to her school, her teacher, her friends, and other students, either sighted or blind. In fact, she mentors younger students who are blind who want to emulate her social and academic success.

This is the story of a very personable and very smart student who is incredibly driven. She never considers her disability an obstacle, just a fact. Cricket’s story is inspiring not just because she has achieved so much as student who is blind, but because she has achieved so much.


Leslie Jaramillo – Art

Leslie Jaramillo

She just graduated from 8th grade and is now at the High School. Leslie was born prematurely along with her twin brother. She lost her sight as an infant due to Retinopathy of Prematurity. She always struggled in her classes until she joined the band in sixth grade. Music made all the difference for Leslie. She graduated with a grade point average of 3.7. She currently attends Ridgeview High school attends all general education classes and jazz band as an elective.

Leslie was introduced to the flutophone in fourth grade which sparked her interest in playing an instrument. In sixth grade she decided to join band choosing the saxophone. Leslie is not able to see the sheet music, but with the help of the Special Education staff they have developed their own Braille system to transcribe most of the sheet music information. Leslie goes in for private coaching before school and memorizes her parts so that she is able to pick up the music from any part within the arrangement and start playing. When she began she in seventh grade she was chair seven. By eighth grade she became first chair. During Jr. High she participated in Jazz band, marching band and county honors band. She is the first student who is blind to participate in a marching at this school. To our knowledge she is the first blind student to march in band at Disneyland. She also tried out for, and made the Kern County Honor Band. Students from all over Kern County try out for this special performance. They are required to learn the music on their own. They then have two-three days to practice as a group before the big performance.


Melissa Flores – Athletics

Melissa Flores

Melissa is currently receiving special education services in general education classes with special education consultation. She is eligible for special education under the disability of Specific Learning Disability. Her disability impacts her overall academic performance. Specifically, Melissa has difficulty comprehending oral directions and connecting and clarifying the main idea when reading a grade level text. When compared to her peers, Melissa is below average for reading and low average for math. Despite her disability, Melissa tries very hard in all of her classes and she is determined to do well in school. She attends after school tutoring when it is available. She also makes an effort to meet with her teachers after class for additional support. As a result, Melissa is currently getting high marks in all of her classes.

Last Updated:  28 February, 2022

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