The Los Angeles Rams and CBS-2/KCAL-9 recently visited Alexander Hamilton Senior High School to celebrate February's LAUSD's Student and Teacher of the month. During a school assembly in front of their fellow peers and colleagues, college-bound senior Ivan Mendez and science teacher Joyce Chonis were recognized.
"It's an honor but it's also a reminder that things mean a lot more when the community comes together," said Alexander Hamilton's principal Brenda Pensamineto. "To have the Rams present and honoring our student and teacher, it's a support of public education in general."
The Hamilton High School jazz band kicked off the assembly while students filled the state-of-the-art Norman Pattiz Auditorium. Mendez and Chonis sat in the first row with their families as Principal Brenda Pensamineto commended them both for their achievements in and out of the classroom.
Known for being a leader, Mendez demonstrates compassion, hard work and exquisite character. Teachers often tell him that he's a pleasure to have in class. Mendez currently holds a 3.9 Grade Point Average (GPA) and enjoys most school subjects with his favorite being science. Not only does he strive in the classroom, but he also participates in after-school programs and trains for the LA Marathon through Students Run Los Angeles.
"There are lot of things that drive me," said Mendez. "Really, it's my parents because I know that they came to this country in hopes of a better life."
Mendez was faced with adversity at a young age when his mother was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. During her treatment, Mendez would help take care of her and make visits to the hospitals on a routine basis. It was during this time that he grew a passion for not only giving back to his loved ones, but also to his greater community.
"At a young age, I started taking care of my mom by giving her medication, making sure she was feeling well and making meals for her. I had to balance that with school," said Mendez. "That was a big part of my family growing up. They wanted me to focus and do well in school to become the best person that I can. When dealing with my mother's situation, I was in hospitals a lot and met a bunch of people that were in similar situations as me. I had the opportunity to see that there are so many people that are affected by health issues and at a young age I was like, 'I want to do something about that. I want to give back to my community. I want to help it and heal it.'"
Mendez has spent numerous hours volunteering at Kaiser Permanente Hospital through the KP Yeah! Program and fundraises for a non-profit organization called Smile Train, which provides funds for pediatric medical procedures. Through his volunteer work and passion, Mendez has his eye on becoming a pediatrician.
Teacher Joyce Chonis also has the heart of a volunteer, which ignited her passion for teaching. It all began when she volunteered at UCLA to help students with hearing or learning disabilities.
"I was going to become a court reporter, but then I got wind of this opportunity at UCLA to caption classes for students with hearing or learning disabilities," said Chonis. "I went in and tested for it and they hired me. I worked with students in the classroom for many years and I just loved it. I wanted to be in the classroom, I wanted to be the instructor. So, I decided to go back to school and get my teaching credential. Hamilton was the first school I walked into and they hired me. I've been here ever since."
Chonis became an instrumental instructor for biology, health and environmental science and eventually served as the Science Department Chair at Hamilton. In addition to her commitment in the classroom, Chonis also helped implement an after-school program where students build hydrogen cars for races.
"This year we added a 7th period and made it a class. So instead of working after school on my own time and their own time, we have a class where we can meet," said Chonis. "Last year, we went to state and this year we hope to do it again and maybe go to nationals. They're excited about maybe going to the internationals. It's a program where they build from the wheels up a little hydrogen fuel cell car, or a remote-control car."
Chonis has been building her legacy at Hamilton since 2006 and will soon be retiring but she still plans to volunteer with Horizon Grand Prix and help the new instructor become familiar with the program.
"I enjoy coming to school every day and it's going to be very hard to leave," said Chonis. "But it's time to go out and live my life. I will come back to volunteer to help the new instructor with Horizon Grand Prix."
As the Hamilton Mariachi band closed out the celebratory assembly, Mendez received $200 for his education and Chonis received a $200 gift card on behalf of CBS-2/KCAL-9. Both honorees also received a personalized Rams jersey to go along with tickets to a Rams game in SoFi Stadium. Other notable attendees who joined the assembly were Los Angeles Unified Board District 1 Board Member Dr. George McKenna III, Local District West-Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Hildreth and CBS-2/KCAL-9 Reporter Lesley Marin.
For more information about the Rams' community outreach initiatives, please visit www.therams.com/community.