Tualatin sixth grader is model student, mentor
Bryan Mendez is no stranger to shouldering extra responsibilities for the good of others.
In just three years, he's moved to a new country, learned a new language, and become a de facto mentor to his classmates.
The 11-year-old Hazelbrook Middle School student is shy but resolute, as he chats from a conference room at his school.
Just three years ago, he was living in Chiapas, Mexico, with his family. His life felt starkly different.
"Here it's hot and cold. In Mexico, every single day is hot, hot, hot," Bryan notes, describing endless mosquitos. "They're everywhere, even when you sleep."
He tries to spell the name of Huixtla, his birthplace in southern Mexico, first tracing out the letters with his fingers in the air.
Since moving to Oregon, he's learned English and taken on responsibilities at home, helping clean around the house and care for his 3-year-old brother. He's also the only English speaker in his immediate family.
"When I moved here, a lot of people helped me and I learned really fast," he says of the new language.
Now, he has stellar grades and goes out of his way to help others in his class.
"Some people ... if they don't understand a word, (if) the teacher's helping another kid, sometimes I ask the teacher if I can go help the person," Bryan says. "Some people need help with math. I'm OK with helping them."
He's also happy to lend a hand to other classmates making the transition from Spanish to English.
"Bryan is a kind and caring young man, who wants the most out of school for himself and his classmates," says Sarah Lennox, one of Bryan's teachers at Hazelbrook. "What makes him stand out as a sixth grader is how focused on others he is: Bryan is constantly encouraging his classmates to push themselves academically."
"I just like to help people. My mom says I need to respect people and help others," Bryan says.
At home, he's started leading by example for his younger brother.
"When my little brother grows up, I want him to help people, like me," Bryan says. "When there's something heavy, I let him do it by himself. I tell him he never needs to give up."
On top of perfecting his language skills, he's also learning to play the violin and read music in his orchestra classes at school.
"I'm getting good," he says.
He prefers playing outside and riding a bike to burying himself in video games, saying he prefers "fresh air" to "getting distracted."
Bryan hasn't given much thought to what he wants to be when he grows up. Right now, he's focused on getting through school.
He recites his grades— all As except for one B, which is a bit of a thorn in his side.
"That's my goal, to get straight As," he notes. Lennox says Bryan prioritizes his education and his family.
"He really sees school as an opportunity to grow as a person, and wants his peers to grow along with him," Lennox says. "He has taken it upon himself to mentor a friend in one of our classes who really struggles to focus, and not only helps this student stay on task, but is also inspiring this student to be more respectful and careful with his words and actions. Being the only English speaker in his family often means Bryan has more responsibilities at home than some of his classmates, but Bryan joyfully serves and celebrates his family."
Tualatin Amazing Kid
Name: Bryan Mendez
School: Hazelbrook Middle School
Why he is amazing: Bryan just learned to speak English three years ago, but he excels in school and always makes time to help his peers in class.