Olmsted County students honored for overcoming personal challenges – Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — Members of the Rochester-Olmsted County Youth Commission recognized six stories of courage and overcoming odds Tuesday during the 26th annual Outstanding Youth Awards.

“When you see this type of thing it really gives me hope,” Olmsted County Commissioner Jim Bier said following the presentations.

Commissioner Sheila Kiscadan agreed, adding that the sense of hope extends to the youth commissioners who organized the presentation to the county board and teachers and others who nominated the six students who were recognized.

“I get hope from looking across the whole room,” she said

This year’s honorees were:

Riles Murray

Riles Murray was touted as an exemplary leader in school and the Rochester community, despite a history of personal challenges.

After transferring to Rochester Alternative Learning Center in 2020, Murray continued to struggle with the challenges of distance learning due to moving among different homes of friends and families, according to youth commissioner Gauri Sood. Added to the mix were existing mental health concerns and feeling let down by the educational system.
The challenges have not stopped Murray from continued personal growth.

Through an Alternative Learning Center partnership with Planned Parenthood, Murray became a mentor providing accurate sexual health information to peers and later joined the Planned Parenthood Teen Council, which is committed to providing formal presentations, community service, and reproductive rights advocacy.

An active member of the Rochester Area Learning Center Social Justice Leadership Team, Murray has also created and led presentations for staff on gender equity, and has championed a variety of racial and social justice issues. Murray has shared their personal experiences with other youth and continued to advocate for positive change at the ALC, which has included a recently created after-school fitness program and plans for a cultural appreciation seminar.

TaEa Boyd.jpg

TaEa Boyd

As an active Rochester Alternative Learning Center student since 2019, TaEa Boyd has gone above and beyond in her work as a leader in the school community.

Youth commissioner Isha Kapoor said Boyd has been a key member of the school’s leadership team, as one of two student members. In that role, she has developed staff training related to the need for a curriculum that represents students from all backgrounds, which included volunteering to facilitate training during a day off for students.

Her work has led to staff commitments to incorporate Black history and accomplishments into their curriculum.

Boyd has also been one of four students working to create the first-ever ALC school dance, and she continues to provide a student perspective aimed at positively impacting school climate and culture.

The accomplishments are significant considering Boyd has experienced family conflict resulting in two out-of-state moves during her time as a student, along with struggles with anxiety and depression. She is currently living out of town and continuing her school work and leadership remotely through virtual connections.

Ameel Othow.jpg

Ameel Othow

As a 1-year-old in Ethiopia, Ameel Othow escaped with her family to Kenya after the Ethiopian government sent the military to kill all of the men of her hometown. Her family struggled for 15 years before their refugee status was approved and they could travel permanently to the United States.

Arriving in Rochester was like starting all over again with school, making friends, learning a new language and getting accustomed to the culture. She practiced English with her cousins and was able to complete the English Language Learner program in a short period, according to Alternative Learning Center teacher Sweta Patel.

As a senior, Othow is driven by her desire to be the first in her family to go to college. She plans to study engineering at Winona State University with the hopes of returning to Ethiopia to help others.

“She says, ‘In Ethiopia we have a lot of doctors and nurses, but we need people to repair buildings, fix electrical problems, and more,’” youth commissioner Levi Hanson said during the award presentation.

Ashley Rosado.jpg

Ashley Rosado<br/>

As a Century High School ninth-grader, Ashley Rosado made friendships that added unintended drama in her life, according to youth commissioner Nandini Iyer. She started failing classes, skipping and leaving school and smoking marijuana.

Her older friends offered her a means of escape, which led to drug addiction. She reached her lowest point when she and a friend, who was reportedly driving while under the influence of drugs, ended up in a car crash on North Broadway Avenue. Rosado remembers few details regarding the incident, but it became a turning point

She has been sober for a year and has been sharing her story with fellow Alternative Learning Center students. In a formal presentation to her peers, she said she wanted them to learn from her experiences in an effort to inspire positive choices.

“She concluded that presentation with the following: ’I came to the ALC because I chose to get a new start. Even if you’ve had bumps in the road, it’s got to start with you and what you decide you want as a chance to better yourself. You are the author of your story. What will you do with it?’” Iyer said Tuesday.

Adeng Mawien.jpg

Adeng Mawien

When Adeng Mawien joined the Alternative Learning Center’s night program, she was a high school senior without enough credits to graduate, due to a variety of personal struggles.

Mawien has little parental support, according to youth commissioner Salma Abdi. She was placed in the foster care system as a 9-year-old and later returned to her mother. However, a fire ended up destroying the home she shared with her mother and siblings.

While no one was injured, the incident was traumatic and changed Mawien’s attitude toward school.

While in middle-school, Mawien began caring for her three younger brothers while their mother worked nights, and she started working at age 12 to help pay family bills. Meanwhile, peer pressure led to poor choices and fighting, which eventually resulted in court intervention and other consequences.

She became overwhelmed at Mayo High School, and by her junior year was regularly skipping classes as her home situation remained unstable. However, during her senior year at the ALC, she has turned things around academically and personally. She has taken the heaviest possible load of night school classes and will graduate in June with her peers.

Mawien plans to work for a year after graduating, but then plans to seek additional education with the goal of eventually owning a business that makes extensions and wigs for all hair types.

Mia Mines.jpg

Mia Mines

Mental health and medical issues interfered with Mia Mines’ education throughout her life. At a young age, she began struggling with headaches that sent her to the doctor regularly, according to youth commissioner Rishikesh Krishnan.

Doctors reportedly said the headaches were normal and recommended typical treatment, but they worsened at age 12, and Mines struggled to focus on her eighth-grade classes.

Hospitalized twice while battling depression, anxiety and night anxiety, problems at home compounded her feelings of hopelessness, and Mines registered to attend the Alternative Learning Center as a freshman year to get a fresh start.

While she continued to struggle with headaches, she began building better relationships at home through skills she learned at the ALC.

The ALC clinic also helped arrange specialized testing, which revealed that Mines’ brain tissue extended into the spinal canal. The discovery led to corrective brain surgery, and personal relief in knowing her symptoms were real.

Now, Miles has finished all her high school graduation requirements three quarters early and is enrolled at Rochester Community and Technical College, with plans to complete her Emergency Medical Technician certification as she works to set other future goals.

What happened: Members of the Rochester-Olmsted County Youth Commission presented six students with the 26th annual Outstanding Youth Awards.

Why does this matter: The annual awards are presented in a ceremony during a meeting of the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners.

What’s next: The youth commission expects to hold another presentation next year.