For St. Barbara student Victoria Gonzalez, the beginning of her fourth-grade year brought great excitement and anticipation – of seeing her friends and teachers, as well as new learning opportunities. She was looking forward to being back in the loving and nurturing environment that defines St. Barbara School.
But during that first week back at school, her life abruptly changed.
Experiencing a severe headache one evening, Gonzalez’s parents rushed her to the hospital. Doctors conducted an MRI and various scans and discovered a brain tumor.
An operation and subsequent issue with her left side being paralyzed led to a month long stay in the hospital. This was followed by a one month stay at a rehabilitation facility and another one month stay recuperating at home. The St. Barbara staff and community rallied around Gonzalez’s recovery and became a key part in the recovery process.
St. Barbara teachers were especially important during Gonzalez’s recovery. They visited her in the hospital and at home, bringing words of encouragement and small gifts.
Gonzalez had a long road to healing which included speech therapy and physical therapy while confined to a wheelchair. Once home, she began to re-connect with schoolwork. When Gonzalez was cleared to return to school, she started with half days and employed a walker to navigate the campus. By the end of the academic year, she was back on track academically and could walk independently.
Gonzalez’s story is one of great perseverance, resiliency and determination in the face of adversity.
“She was a real go getter when she returned,” said her fourth-grade teacher Susan Wimmer. “She wanted to get back into the flow of school and make-up for lost time.”
Wimmer added that Gonzalez inspired teachers and fellow classmates alike.
Jamie Calma recounts that Gonzales struggled a bit in middle school with writing and analysis, but her effort never wavered.
“She took direction and teacher feedback to improve, and she never got discouraged,” said Calma, who teaches English and history teacher. “She is very meticulous in her writing and detail oriented.”
St. Barbara School Principal Chris McGuiness described Gonzalez, who is now in eighth grade, as a quiet leader.
“She is not an outgoing leader,” he said. “She goes about her business with a peacefulness about her.”
Gonzalez’s academic career at St. Barbara student began in the first grade. As she progressed past her health issues, she has immersed herself fully into school. She is currently a member of the student council and is co-chair of the Environmental and Ecology Committee. She has also participated in the school volleyball program and has served as a weekend Mass altar server.
Gonzalez has many goals beyond St. Barbara. She would like to continue her Catholic education and attend Mater Dei High School next fall. At Mater Dei, she hopes to be involved in dance, cheerleading or swim team. In college, she would like to major in architecture or interior design.
There are many people who have influenced Gonzalez’s educational journey. She credits her cousins who attend Mater Dei, her parents and Jesus as her primary role models.
She calls the St. Barbara community “kind and caring.” She specifically gives thanks to the teachers and staff at St. Barbara, stating, “They take time to do one- on-one sessions with students and help them along the way.”
Gonzalez said she is most proud of being named to the Merit Role and Honor Role. Merit Role is reserved for students who have received all A’s and B’s while at the school. Gonzales was named to the honor role for receiving straight A’s in her last trimester of seventh grade and first trimester of eighth grade.
The remarkable story of Victoria Gonzalez will inspire the staff and students at St. Barbara School for many years to come. She will be remembered as the kind, soft-spoken student, who overcame great challenges to become a positive leader, excellent student and friend to all.