Meet the 2020 Portland Beat the Odds Scholars

Daniela Martinez, Four Rivers Senior Prep

Daniela grew up in rural Ontario, the youngest of four children. Life hasn’t always been easy. When Daniela was in middle school, her father left the family. Her oldest brother struggled with addiction. Daniela’s Mom worked long hours to support the family as a single parent. Adamant that she get a good education, she enrolled Daniela at Four Rivers, a two-way dual-language immersion charter school serving grades K-8. Daniela thrived academically, played sports, and helped form a cheer squad. When Four Rivers announced they were opening an early college high school, she jumped at the chance to enroll. Daniela is passionate about lifting up others. Whether she’s tutoring her classmates, volunteering, or working to help her Mom with expenses, Daniela’s positive outlook inspires and energizes those around her.

Tabarek Al-Saood, Centennial High School

Tabarek was at the top of her class at school in Iraq, taking the most rigorous courses in preparation for medical school. Then, the unthinkable happened. Her father was abducted on his way to work; his whereabouts are still unknown. Tabarek, with her mother and three little brothers fled to Turkey and began the process of immigrating to the United States as refugees. By the time they arrived in Oregon in 2016, Tabarek had lost two full years of schooling. She entered Centennial High School with broken English and little confidence, but her ELD teacher Mr. Woodlee was determined to get her back on the path to becoming a doctor. He encouraged her to take high level science courses and join the speech and debate team. Tabarek will never forget the loved ones she left behind in Iraq, but with determination and support from the team at Centennial, she has built a new community – and a bright future – in America.

Darian Wilson, La Pine Senior High School

When Darian he sets his mind to meet a goal, he succeeds. Since 7th grade, he has dreamed of attending a 4-year university. But Darian’s home life was chaotic. His mother struggled with addiction and couldn’t provide adequate care for Darian and his sister. When Darian was 15, the siblings took a greyhound bus from Tulsa Oklahoma to La Pine, Oregon, hoping for a fresh start. But more adversity awaited. After a short period of living with their older brother, a physical altercation with his brother’s girlfriend landed Darian in the hospital. It was then that he knew he had to strike out on his own. Darian got on food stamps, secured a full-time job, and found his own place to live. He has been living independently since sophomore year, paying his own way, while also helping to support his sister and his baby niece. In addition to working two jobs, Darian takes advanced courses, maintains a 3.86 GPA, founded the Multi-Cultural Club at La Pine HS and is President of the Superintendent Student Board. He is considering a career in law.

Tessa Robinson, Cleveland High School

Tessa comes from a loving, close-knit family. Her mother works hard to support Tessa and her two sisters, but money has always been tight and the family has faced homelessness several times. When Tessa was a freshman, she lived with her mother and sisters in a small red truck. The cramped conditions took a toll on Tessa’s physical and mental health, and her grades suffered. But despite those challenges, Tessa took away some important lessons. Being unhoused taught her how strong she can be in the face of adversity and stoked her compassion and empathy for others. Tessa is committed to her education and, after credit recovery, she has a 3.59 GPA. She is gifted in mathematics and challenges herself with advanced courses. In addition, she is a talented track and field athlete, an active member of the Black Student Union and the Cleveland Alliance for Racial Equity. She works after school to help support her family.

Roberto Charboneau, Roosevelt High School

A Lakota-Sioux and Anishinaabe Native American, Roberto’s culture grounds him and gives him strength to confront the scars of his past. He was raised by his mother, a strong woman who was plunged into depression following the death of her youngest son. Until middle school, Roberto was enrolled in a different school every year. The rootlessness and instability impacted his mental health and pushed him to a breaking point. But his tenuous family circumstances led Roberto to develop a signature trait: adaptability. Roberto sees education as his path toward the future. His teachers describe him as a quiet yet powerful leader. When a group project needs direction, Roberto is the compass. If a fellow student is struggling personally, Roberto steps in to console. It’s no surprise that his dream is to attend the University of Portland and become an Emergency Nurse Practitioner – one of the most compassionate professions.

Aaliyah Payne, North Medford High School

Someone once told Aaliyah that most children born into poverty never escape a low-income life. She has dedicated her entire life to fighting against that stereotype, but numerous obstacles have stood in her way. Her father is incarcerated for robbery, assault, drug possession, and domestic violence. Her mother and her sisters have struggled with housing instability and racial discrimination. By the time she was 14, Aaliyah was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety. But inside Aaliyah is a fierce inner drive and an unwavering motivation to succeed. School helped her find activities she loves, like playing the violin and volleyball. Aaliyah aspires to a career in the medical field, and she chooses advanced classes to help her prepare. Between school and her job as a barista, Aaliyah keeps busy, but the end of each day brings a sense of contentment. The end of each day brings her one step closer to becoming a first generation college graduate.

Alfonso Diaz, Jr., North Salem High School

Alfonso was born in the United States, but his family relocated to Mexico when he was still a baby. When he was 14, his parents divorced. Alfonso helped his family through that difficult time by working while going to school. Sadly, as a US Citizen, he was only able to go so far with his education in Mexico. Alfonso realized that in order to continue, he would have to return to the US. Return he did, in 2016, without his parents, without money, and speaking very little English. At first, Alfonso lived with relatives, but they did not view education as essential. Never discouraged, Alfonso moved out on his own. Today, he works full time to support himself and his brother while pursuing his diploma and preparing for college. He is an avid reader who loves to play chess; he and his brother founded NSHS’s first chess club. An aspiring Computer Engineer, Alfonso is jump starting his career by participating in the Drones and Robotics Program at the Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC).

Taylor Parker, Astoria Senior High School

Genuine, humble, and resourceful, Taylor is determined to show the world what she is capable of. She began taking care of herself at 11 years old following the death of her grandma, who had been her parental figure. Her mom, though physically present, was struggling with addiction. For the next three years, Taylor’s situation worsened as her mother became more and more unpredictable and abusive. In November 2018, Taylor fled her mother’s home and began the process of becoming the only legally emancipated minor in Clatsop county. Although at first she felt isolated, the more she told her story to her teachers and mentors, the more support she received. Taylor was able to secure a safe place to live and a steady job, all while keeping up at school. In addition to being a stellar student, she performs in the Columbia River Symphony (multiple instruments) and volunteers with multiple organizations in her community.

First Moon Venecia, Douglas McKay High School

School has always been a safe haven for First Moon. Her life has been filled with trauma and loss, and beginning in middle school, she joined clubs, played sports, and volunteered to avoid her toxic home life. What started as an escape became an outlet for finding her true talents. First Moon is an accomplished musician, and being involved in band gave her a sense of belonging and boosted her confidence. The summer of her sophomore year, First Moon found the courage to record the abuse she was experiencing and, as a result, was placed in DHS custody. Today, she has a safe home with her older brother and his wife. She remains closely connected to her school community, as well as the Indian Education branch of the Salem-Keizer School District. First Moon loves working with youth and hopes someday to become an occupational therapist.

Christina Saada, Reynolds High School

Every person has a day that changes their entire life. For Christina, that day was March 11, 2011; the day a war broke out in her native country of Syria. As ISIS attacked her hometown, electricity and running water were turned off. Residents who dared venture out of their homes after 6pm risked being kidnapped or killed. But every day, Christina’s father took her to school. As a refugee in the United States, first in Ohio, she struggled against racial discrimination and learned to speak English. But in Oregon, she found her footing as an excellent student. Christina is a member of the Reynolds High School Key Club, as well as Students 4 Equity and the Theatre department. She is an active volunteer with her church. Christina wants to go to college and become a surgeon so that she can help heal people affected by war and violence.

Armando Tellez, Eagle Point High School

Armando comes from an immigrant family, the third child out of four. His parents work long hours at  arduous jobs, and from early on they taught their children the importance of education. Tragically, their daughter Luciana – Armando’s older sister – was killed along with two friends, just weeks away from their high school graduation, in a car accident. The three friends were returning from a trip to buy graduation dresses. Lucy and Armando had been extremely close. She had planned to attend Oregon State and would have been the first in her family to earn a college degree. As Armando struggles to make sense of the senseless tragedy, he allows his sister’s legacy to drive him forward. Armando is a hard worker with a compassionate heart. He plans to study business at OSU and become an entrepreneur. His dream is to start a non-profit organization that provides essential items like clothing, school supplies, and personal hygiene items to those in need.

Salsabel Al Masri, Madison High School

Salsabel Al Masri was born in Daraa, Syria and fled to Jordan because of war when she was 9 years old. She lost everything – her happy life, her lovely house, her school, her friends, and her smile. But she never lost her dream of becoming a doctor. After moving to the United States in 2016, Salsabel kept that dream in her heart as she learned to navigate a new culture, a new language, and a new life.  didn’t know any English, but had to help read the mail, pay the bills, find a job for her father and help her brothers with homework. She became an A student, an active volunteer at St Mark’s Lutheran Church, and a member of the International Youth Leadership Conference. Surrender is not in her character. Her dream of being a doctor is closer than ever.

Mekeds Hilete, Jefferson High School

At the age of 4, Mekdes stood with her father in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and said goodbye as her mother boarded a plane to America. That was the moment that Mekdes became known as “the girl without a mother.” When she wasn’t being bullied, she was pitied. But education helped Medkes change that narrative. By excelling in school, she distinguished herself as an intelligent girl with a promising future. But when Mekdes joined her mother in America at the age of 14, her confidence wavered again. She felt dumb and isolated, but that only made her more determined. After school, she taught herself English by watching “How to Get Away with Murder”. By the end of her freshman year, she was carrying a 4.0 GPA. Today, Mekdes volunteers in and outside of school. She is a member of a leadership cohort that represents second language learners in the Portland Public Schools system, and has 45 college credits. After college, she plans to go to Medical school.

Raymond Pasay, Cascade High School

Raymond is a star student, an accomplished athlete, and a leader at his school. Upon meeting Raymond, you would never know that for the last two years, he has been homeless. His father is in prison for sexually abusing Raymond’s sister. His mother, a sexual abuse survivor herself, struggles with mental illness brought on by a lifetime of trauma and cannot parent him. Despite having no family on which to depend, he has surrounded himself with teachers, mentors, and peers who lift him up and keep him going. Raymond is a member of AVID, Cascade High School Student Body Government, and the National Honor Society. He is the team captain of the varsity football team. Raymond wants to graduate college, own his own home, start a family, and give his children the advantages that he did not have.

Jeronimo Gaspar, Woodburn Wellness, Business, and Sports School

Jeronimo has always seen the ladder of education as a sort of salvation in his life. He grew up without a father, surrounded by gang activity, and without the financial resources to provide even the basics that others take for granted. He began working in the fields alongside his mother from an early age. While his friends and neighbors were dropping out of school, doing drugs and drifting in and out of jail, Jeronimo dedicated himself to getting an education. He enrolled in every advanced course offered by his school and excelled. His teachers describe Jeronimo as one of the most powerful thinkers on campus, who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. He is passionate about business and is actively involved with Young Entrepreneurs Business Week.

Ivan Galicia Sixto, Woodburn Academy of International Studies

Ivan’s early childhood was characterized by trauma and loss. His father was an alcoholic who often became violent. His sister, with whom he was very close, drowned at the community pool during After School Club. Reeling with grief, Ivan and his mother relocated to Oaxaca, Mexico to start over when Ivan was 8 years old. He did well in elementary school, but because he was not a citizen, he could not attend high school without paying exorbitant tuition. Determined to earn his diploma and go to college, Ivan got his documents in order and came alone to the US when he was 16 years old. He struggled immensely, but he met every challenge head on. Ivan excelled in school, worked to support himself, served as an AVID tutor and participated in the Oregon Migrant Leadership Institute. Soon, he realized his life’s purpose; to become a high school teacher. More than anything, Ivan wants to be a role model for students that struggle like he did.


As a child, Jose dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. But when he was in elementary school, his mother noticed that Jose was experiencing unexplained muscle weakness. Despite being seen by various physicians, no diagnosis was ever made. By the time Jose was in seventh grade, he was using a wheelchair. Around that same time, Jose’s father became consumed by alcohol addiction. His parents divorced, and Jose and his Mom moved into their own apartment.  Beginning life as a family of two had its challenges, but Jose saw his freshman year in high school as his chance to reinvent himself as a student. He began earning As and Bs, and he challenged himself with rigorous classes. Today, he attends the Center for Advanced Learning to prepare for a career in high-tech. Jose is also a self-described “volunteer hustler.” This summer, he dedicated more than 80 hours to local nonprofit organizations.


Matilde and her Mom have always been close. But when Matilde was thirteen, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Chemotherapy saved her life, only to have tragedy strike again. Shortly after entering remission, Matilde’s mother suffered a stroke. As her mother worked to regain her mobility, Matilde took over as the second adult in the house. Between translating at doctor’s appointments, appealing insurance denials, and working to supplement her father’s income, Matilde missed school frequently. Thankfully, she found an incredible support system at school. Her school counselor and her TRiO advisor helped her triage her assignments and provided emotional support. As her mother’s condition improved, Matilde began channeling her energy back into school. Today, she serves as the Associated Student Body President, and she’s considering a career in political science and policy.

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