PALMDALE — Joseph Kercado can be a full-fledged skater once again, thanks to the thoughtfulness of his teacher and the generosity of a professional skateboarder.
Joseph, a freshman at Highland High School, received a brand new skate board Monday to replace the one he left behind when his family moved here from Puerto Rico a year ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The skate board was hand-delivered by professional skater Manny Santiago, who is also from Puerto Rico, during Joseph’s English class Monday.
“It’s pretty nice. I don’t know what to say,” Joseph said after receiving the surprise visit.
The story began with English teacher Daniela Palacio Salazar, who started at the school just two weeks ago. As a means of getting to know her students, Salazar had them write letters to her. Joseph’s letter stood out with his description of himself.
He wrote, “I am a skater, but not any more because I had to leave my skateboard behind,” Salazar said.
Because her husband has worked in a skate shop for a long time, she asked him if he could help get a skate board for Joseph, thinking there may be a used one available.
Instead, he contacted Cesar Velez, who in turn connected him with Santiago. The professional skateboarder, who lives in Los Angeles, decided to bring a brand-new board from his own line and hand-deliver it, along with some stickers and other swag from one of his sponsors.
“I’m just trying to do the right thing for a kid who had to leave such a tragic situation,” he said Monday. “We all came together to make a difference for him.”
Santiago also used the visit to the high school as a chance to connect with the other students, and to demonstrate what it’s like to help others when you can.
“I want to show kids you can be yourself. I want to come here and leave a dent, show it’s OK to be yourself and be a good person,” he said. “That was my end goal, to be in a position to help others.”
Santiago spoke to the class about the importance of having dreams and working hard to achieve them, and to take advantage of the help of teachers like Salazar to guide them along the way.
“You have an open network of people here who care for you and want the best for you,” he said.
He talked about his own experiences, including a regret that he didn’t pay more attention in school, and how he was able through hard work and making the right choices to achieve his own dreams.
Joseph’s mother, along with his teacher and school administrators, was in on the surprise visit and came to campus to take part.
The move a year ago “was a rough time,” she said, but people have been extremely nice and have helped them along the way.
The family came to the Antelope Valley, where Vargas has family, after they learned they would no longer be able to rent the house they where they lived in Puerto Rico. When the family first moved to Palmdale in November of last year, Joseph enrolled at Hillview Middle School, and started at Highland this fall as a freshman.
Vargas knew Joseph, the oldest of three children, had left things behind, but did not realize how much the absent skateboard meant until she heard from his teacher, she said.
“That was incredible,” she said Monday.
Joseph has been skating since he was about nine years old, when his mom gave him his first skateboard.
“It’s fun,” he said of the pastime, although admitting “it kind of hurts” when he falls. “It feels like I’m somewhere else.”
Santiago is host to a free skateboard contest each year in Puerto Rico to provide a chance for skaters there to show their stuff and maybe get noticed, and looks for other opportunities to reach out to youth. With the new connection to Highland High School, he hopes to extend his outreach here with activities in cooperation with the school.
He hopes his efforts inspire other skateboarders to lead by example, “to be a role model for kids they wish they had,” he said.
Highland Principal Chris Grado praised Salazar and Santiago for the extra-curricular effort to help a student.
“It just shows how much influence they can have when they build the right relationships,” Grado said. “This could be something that could change his life.”
The high school district works to ensure students are plugged into activities, whether it be sports or band or skateboarding, as each has its own culture of community that can offer students support, he said.
Something like this is a great opportunity to show students there are other people out there to offer help and to help keep students from feeling isolated.
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