Catholic elementary students honoured for making a difference

GUELPH – Every year, the Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) recognizes students for significant contributions to their school communities. 

The three elementary school students selected this year are Marina Westerveld-Francisco, Liwam Birhane and Cora Davies. 

The students were honoured during the board meeting at the new Catholic Education Centre on Dec. 4. 

Trustee Andrew Finoro said the students made history that evening – as the first of hundreds to be honoured in the new WCDSB headquarters. 

Marina Westerveld-Francisco

Westerveld-Francisco is an independent, brave and generous Grade 7 student at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Guelph, officials say. 

Westerveld-Francisco’s friends say she is hilarious and loves making others laugh, and is “sassy, but in a good way.” 

Her teachers say she is “a very authentic person in a world that needs more positivity.”

Trustee Cassandra O’Donnell described Marina Westerveld-Francisco as “the light, love and hope this world so desperately needs.” Photo by Robin George

Officials say she is a source of pride for her family, who describe how she always cares for others, especially her sister Eridania. 

Her family said one of her greatest strengths is her ability to save money, and note she doesn’t spend the money on herself, but on presents for family and friends. 

Westerveld-Francisco perseveres through challenges that come with living with cerebral palsy, and succeeded in making the school soccer team this year. 

The school’s MakerSPACE Room has been “re-visioned” with Westerveld-Francisco’s help, and she also helped launch a “new and rockin’” video announcement team that helps student and staff at Holy Trinity “start their day in a positive way.” 

According to Westerveld-Francisco’s teacher, the Grade 7 student has “the commitment and determination of women’s Canadian soccer sensation Christine Sinclair, the non-stop energy and creativity of Taylor Swift, and the fierceness and loyalty of Princess Leia in Star Wars.” 

But she doesn’t dream of becoming a professional soccer player, pop star or princess – Westerveld-Francisco said when she grows up, she wants to be a lawyer. 

Her mantra is to “always let your heart be your guide.” 

Liwam Birhane

 While some lights pulsate, flicker or turn on and off, Liwam Birhane is a light that remains steadfast and ever-burning, according to her Grade 7 teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Guelph. 

“She is one who can be consistently counted on, day in and day out, to always work to be the best version of herself,” trustees said. 

Birhane is quick to lend a helping hand by translating for peers, supporting food drives, helping with school photos and play day, and welcoming new students. 

Liwam Birhane is the embodiment of Catholic values, said WCDSB trustee and vice-chair Vikki Dupuis. Photo by Robin George

“Above all, Liwam plays a significant role in creating a positive class community where all members feel included and valued,” officials say. 

She is committed to displaying Catholic values in all aspects of her life, including in the classroom, on the playground, and at after-school events, quietly modelling her faith and setting a strong example for peers, they add.

Birhane is patient and respectful, and approaches difficulties and challenges “with a positive attitude and determination to put forth her best effort.” 

She is dependable, trustworthy and compassionate and an integral part of St. Joseph’s school community who can “always be counted on to do what is asked of her and more.” 

After reading through the comments from Birhane’s teachers about her exceptional character, trustee and vice-chair Vikki Dupuis asked with a chuckle if she’s up for adoption. 

Cora Davies

Officials say Cora Davies is a gentle and compassionate leader and Grade 8 student at Holy Rosary Catholic School in Guelph. 

Teacher Mrs. Vandenheuval writes that in the five years they have known each other, she “has only seen [Davies] with a beautiful and welcoming smile on her face.” 

Teachers say she shines “her kindness and light quietly to all staff and students”  and understands the importance of inclusion and equity. 

She is a pleasure to have in class, a positive role model to peers and younger students, and “a shining example of the word integrity.” 

Trustee Andrew Finoro said if Cora Davies “gives you her word, she delivers.” Photo by Robin George

Davies is a member of the student voice at Holy Rosary and helps organize special events and theme days.  

Her “excellent organizational skills and her willingness to take on tasks and follow through with all of her commitments” makes her a strong asset to the student voice, officials state. 

She helps out in the office at school and “when students come to the office for a Band-Aid or ice, Cora is always so kind and supportive, especially of our younger students,” Finoro said. 

 She is part of the soccer, volleyball and cross-country teams and teachers say “she is a trusted teammate who works for the better of her team.”

She is also a strong student who is dedicated to her studies, and “she can always be counted on to make sound and good decisions, even when no one is watching,” Finoro said. 

“Cora is an exceptional student and person.” 

Trustee and chair Marino Gazzola said each of the VIP students are “shining examples of our students.”

He congratulated the students, their parents, and the teachers and staff members who helped them become the exemplary students they are.