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April 11, 2016

Celebrating the achievements of Chandler residents with disabilities

By Councilmember Nora Ellen

Every year, the City Council celebrates the achievements of Chandler residents with disabilities as well as the people who support them. It is always a pleasure for me to meet the recipients of the Disability Awareness Recognition Awards selected by the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities at a City Council meeting. I would like to congratulate them again and publically share extracts of their nominations. They certainly deserve our praise.

This year, two students were selected as “Students of the Year.” The first award was granted to Michael Gonzalez Santiago from San Tan Junior High School. Michael is an 8th grade student who was nominated by one of his teachers. In the nomination, Michael is referred to as one of the biggest advocates for students with special needs. Unknowingly, Michael has motivated  more than 100 students to apply to become peer helpers, known as “Stormin’ Buddies” for the next school year. His teacher attributes his academic success to his positive attitude as well as “the endless efforts of his mother, Luana Santiago, and his uncle, Kyle Tolman.” Michael’s family has been “extremely supportive of Michael and has been encouraging him to be the best he can be.” Congratulations Michael for overcoming your challenges and being a bright light to those around you.

The second award for “Student of the Year” was given to Madeline Chan from Basha High School. Madeline was also nominated by one of her teachers who stated that she is “every teacher’s dream student.” The nomination reads: “she arrives every day with a smile, anxious to get started with the day’s activities. She excitedly participates in all learning activities and especially likes Reading Class where she can point to symbol vocabulary as the teacher reads the story. She is also a teacher’s challenge, as the learning expectations must expand higher and higher because Maddie continually rises to meet them, especially with using her AAC device to communicate.” Congratulations, Maddie on winning this year’s award.

Several students were also recognized for their volunteer efforts to assist people with disabilities. This year’s awards for “Volunteers of the Year” were given to Connor Dorn and Max Rhoads, from Santan Jr. High School, and Kyla Belville from Chandler High School. They have gone above and beyond to assist students at their schools and demonstrate “kindness, friendliness and the ability to always be outgoing and positive role models.” I would like to thank you for your leadership skills and compassion.

The Chandler Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities has chosen two winners for the “Educators of the Year.” Angelica Menchaca has worked at Bogle Junior High for 17 years and her nomination praises her for her devotion to the school, students and the community. “Angelica does her utmost to help students, not only understand concepts being taught, but ensures they know how much she cares about them as individuals.” The second award was given to Stephanie Jones from Basha High School for being a “quintessential teacher” and for having “incredible instincts when it comes to understanding and accommodating a student with complex needs, yet pushing them to be as independent as possible.” Congratulations to you both for excelling at your work and making such a great difference in students’ lives.

Finally, the “Employer of the Year” award was given to Home Depot. They gracefully agreed to hire two students with intellectual disabilities from the PLACE Transition Program as temporary employees. Home Depot staff worked with a job coach and the students to provide them with an exceptional learning experience. The students were later hired as permanent employees and still work at Home Depot. Thank you to Sherry Jenkins at Home Depot for enabling the collaboration with PLACE. 

All of this year’s award recipients, along with the members of the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities can take great pride in all they have done for the City of Chandler. 

To learn more about the work of the Committee and scholarship opportunities, visit or call Collette Prather at 480-782-2709.