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Every student is capable of great things. As educators, we’ve seen students across all walks of life tackle all sorts of challenges, academic or otherwise. We’ve seen some students face disappointment, find grit, and accomplish their goals; we’ve also seen some students achieve their dreams from the get-go. Regardless of their expectations—and sometimes despite them—we know every student can do great things.

This month, we’d like to celebrate students across the district. We contacted a few teachers for recommendations on students who achieve and accomplish academic goals during their time in our schools.

We quickly heard back from Provo High School teacher Lily Bueno, who had this to say in her initial email:

I teach Portuguese post-AP upper-division university courses through the Bridge Program and have excellent students. I would love to point out Isabella Leite for academic excellence. I just wrote a letter of recommendation for her; the letter will help you see what type of student I am talking about.

The girl Lily Bueno was talking about was Isabella Leite. The person described in the letter was someone we had to meet, as you’ll see.

Lily Bueno was the first DLI Portuguese teacher for these first graders in the state. Bueno left briefly to complete a Masters program and returned to our district to teach those same students. She moved away once more a few years later but returned, only to teach that same group of students yet again. She’s taught her seniors since they were children.

It’s a teacher’s dream to watch your students grow from the start, middle, and end of their K–12 years. You know their strengths and weaknesses, you know their struggles, and you know how best you can teach them. You can appreciate how much they’ve had to overcome to grow into the people they are today.

Isabelle Leite is a student who’s grown into an exceptionally empathetic, intelligent person. She’s a student taking on more than her age suggests.

“She’s a girl I’ve known since five,” Bueno said, “And she is amazing. She’s not just the first cohort of the Dual Language Immersion program in the state; she’s not just a 4.0 GPA student. She was the girl that had to learn through practice, as a child—over time, she worked at it, and now she’s incredible. She is an incredibly hard worker.”

Isabella is a student who has achieved academic greatness at the collegiate level. She’s completing an advanced college language class in high school through the BRIDGE program—a four-credit, 3000-level class. Her work is exemplary, by definition, as you’ll find in Bueno’s letter of recommendation:

Upon reviewing her work, the Portuguese Bridge Program Director was so impressed that he requested permission to use her projects as exemplary models for students throughout the state participating in the Bridge program. Isabella’s work is a testament to her dedication and skill, and it has become a source of inspiration for others.

Bueno has taught many students, but Isabella is a particularly gifted linguist with a talent for handling heavy workloads and advanced subject matter. Bueno says it impressed colleges and universities receiving Isabella’s letter of recommendation.

“I’ve had colleges write back, telling me, “I have never heard of a student who can do this sort of work—this is amazing!” 

Isabella handles the weight of an extensive academic workload, sure, but just as importantly, she’s taken on a mantle to enrich her community. More than once, Isabella has asked Lily for help double-checking her translations on Community Health Clinic forms—forms that Isabella translated to help increase care options for other monolingual Portuguese speakers. 

Translating clinic forms wasn’t a school project. It wasn’t something spurred on to fill a checklist of must-haves to improve an academic letter of recommendation. Leite took on this task because she saw a need and knew she could make a difference.

Isabella has made a difference in many places and many forms: from HOSA president to National Honor Society member to Provo City School District custodian, she dedicates many hours of each week to serving others. However, these facts do not touch on the bulk of her service work, amassed through her Girl Scouts journey. 

To return her to letter of recommendation:

Isabella’s Girl Scouts journey spans eight years, during which she exemplified a commitment to community service. For her Bronze Award, she raised funds and collected supplies for refugees, showcasing her dedication to making a positive impact. Transitioning to her Silver Award, Isabella sewed hundreds of cotton masks, sending them to Native American reservations in a thoughtful response to community needs. Currently working on her Gold Award, she is developing a curriculum aimed at educating teenagers about intimate partner abuse, highlighting her advocacy for critical social issues.

This is where her most comprehensive and impactful project comes in: The curriculum, written entirely in Portuguese, aimed to educate teenagers about intimate partner abuse. The curriculum is the real deal; it uses standards and activities that are aligned and cumulative, the same way that actual content development appears. It’s well-designed, articulate, and all-encompassing. Everything is up to state standards. The state coordinator, Bueno reported, is presenting this curriculum now at the UFLA Conference.

“It’s so well-designed that I could take it and teach from it right now,” Bueno said.

(As an aside, as an ex-teacher and prior curriculum writer with Utah Valley’s Native Initiative, I wholeheartedly agree.)

Isabella expressed appreciation for the Girls Scouts program, which offered her the structure she needed to build steam.

“Girl Scouts provided the platform and opportunity. There’s even an interview process to propose a project and a mentoring system. I always had a mentor who helped me reach out to other organizations and coach me along the way.”

Despite the scaffolded program, Isabella still had to conduct extensive research to find a need. As a Portuguese learner with a firm grasp of the language, Isabella could discover sources lost on a person without a shared cultural background. She researched and found information about María da Penha, a famous activist and women’s rights defender who helped create laws to protect women against domestic violence. With María da Penha’s work as a guide and role model, Isabella worked on a curriculum that could make a sustained impact. And sustainability, Isabella noted, was a main priority.

“The project’s goal is to create a sustainable impact in the community—not just something that lasts a day, but something that can continue to have an impact and grow over time,” said Isabella. “I think that doing the curriculum with the DLI program is how I create a sustainable impact. Even though I don’t have the time to lead it, others can continue sharing each lesson.”

And, by her own hand, the sustained impact of Isabella’s program continues; Isabella developed and presented a website for sustained outreach, and hopes to travel to Brazil soon to share her curriculum with educators there—all because she saw a need and knew she could make a difference. It’s a difference that will make a difference in many lives for years to come.

We thank Lily Bueno for her recommendation, and we thank Isabella Leite for enriching our community.

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei