May 24, 2013

From wallflower to class president

Rachel Brown

— Blanca Alvarez was shy and withdrawn when she arrived at Morris Innovative High School her junior year.

Now a senior who graduates from the school today, she had been sent there from Dalton High School because she wasn’t passing math, and Morris offers programs to help struggling students catch up.

Now, Alvarez is anything but struggling, and she’s definitely found her voice, according to those who know her. As class president with the student government association, she has spearheaded the planning for the school’s prom and sweetheart dances, helped operate the concession stands at sporting events and overseen other school-wide activities such as Teacher Appreciation Week.

On top of that, she’s participated in soccer and cross country, obtained her American Red Cross certification in first aid and CPR and is planning to attend Dalton State College to begin her studies this fall toward becoming a registered nurse.

She credits several teachers with helping her along the way, including health care teacher Judy Strickland, who she said taught her to think beyond herself. Strickland’s health care students have helped out during several health fairs and blood drives.

“We do a lot of hands-on stuff, so it really prepared me to be responsible and to care about other people,” Alvarez said. “It has really (helped me improve) in other classes, and now I don’t focus on me, me, me. I focus on other people and what they think.”

Alvarez said she was interested in medicine, but as recently as middle school she thought she wanted to go into veterinary science. As she saw the impact a good medical professional could have on lives, she decided to change her focus to working with other people.

School counselor Dee Bonds said Alvarez is easily smart enough to obtain a more advanced degree, even though she could get started in an entry level position with the classes she has had already.

Alvarez said she had the opportunity to go back to Dalton High after she caught up on her math, but she elected to stay at Morris.

“I feel like I’m more at home,” she said. “All the teachers here put a lot of effort into our education.”

That effort was part of what helped her break out of her shell and realize her potential, she said. It was also one of the things that kept her going when she developed a case of “senioritis” in December and began being tardy to school for a short time. She said her father encouraged her to keep at her work and not quit.

“If you give up, you’re going to leave all your dreams behind,” Alvarez said he told her. “You’re also going to let down all the people who are helping you here at Morris.”

So she pushed on, using a mantra that helped her remember things won’t always be the same.

“Never give up on your dream,” she said. “That’s how I look at it — in a storm, it’s always cloudy and stuff, but you never know what’s ahead of you. It might be something pretty.”

Principal Jennifer Phinney said she recently awarded Alvarez the Principal’s Award, which goes to a student who has “really contributed to the success and culture of our school... and that would absolutely be Blanca.”

In her spare time, Alvarez likes to run, hike and help her mother with gardening. She has an older sister and an older brother. Her parents are Jose and Olimpia Alvarez.