HEARTS OF GOLD: 2001 YOUNG EXPLORERS - The Explorer: Import

HEARTS OF GOLD: 2001 YOUNG EXPLORERS

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Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2002 12:00 am | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

ALEXANDRA TUGGLE

To say that Alex-andra Tuggle is a busy girl is a serious understatement.

In fact, Alexandra, 11, has a schedule that might put some adults to shame.

In addition to being a fifth-grader at Casas Adobes Chris-tian School, her weeks are also filled with hours of horseback riding lessons, violin lessons, piano lessons, taking care of her two miniature horses, playing with friends and studying.

"I get bored easily if I don't have anything to do," she shrugged. Alexandra is also on the principal's list for getting straight A's throughout her time at Casas Christian School, 10801 N. La Cholla Boulevard.

In tow throughout Alexandra's busy life are her parents, Gerald, a private contractor, and Sandra, who works in the restaurant industry. They say Alexandra has always been the one who knows what is best for herself and that they never push her to do things she doesn't want to do.

"I don't say no to a lot of things she wants to do," Sandra said. "Children want to learn. If you say no they'll never learn."

But since Alexandra is a few years away from being able to drive herself to her numerous activities, that means her parents must keep up with her energy.

"It takes almost 200 percent of myself to get her where she needs to go," Sandra said.

One of the most recent places the family had to go was Phoenix, where Alexandra competed in and won the regional Association of Christian Schools International spelling bee, beating students in grades much higher than hers.

"She practiced her spelling words all throughout Christmas break," said her teacher Leila Norris. "I mean, how many kids do you know who would do that?

"I didn't really think she'd win the whole thing," she continued. "But she showed a great deal of composure for her age."

But when Alexandra got her final word to spell, -- noctambulous, which means night waking -- she knew she had the competition in the bag.

Alexandra said she had used that word repeatedly to practice for the local spelling bee, and then had to spell the word in the actual competition. When she got the word again in the regional competition, this time to win, her parents said she couldn't hide her excitement.

"She turned to us and had this big smile on her face," Sandra said.

For Alexandra, the win, which means traveling to Washington, D.C. for the national spelling bee May 18, was a dream come true.

"Ever since I was four or five I wanted to go to the national spelling bee. I really wanted to see the White House," Alexandra said. "I was really, really excited and happy."

That kind of focus and determination is one of the qualities the Tuggles said they love about their daughter.

"She's 30 years old but she had fun," Sandra joked. "She makes huge decisions, but every decision she has made has been the right one.

"People think we push her to do things, but we don't," she continued. "She's always been focused."

Norris said Alexandra's combination of being focused but also socially adjusted is what makes her an exceptional student.

"As a teacher, I've had students who were exceptional academically, but not socially doing well," she said. "Alexandra is an exceptional student, but she also has a lot of friends."

"Her friends really do look up to her," said Eric Dowdle, the principal at Casas Christian School. "They see her as a safe friend, someone who can be trusted."

Alexandra and her friends started the Blacklidge Detective Agency, but said the endeavor was somewhat unsuccessful.

"That kind of flopped," she said. "We started it to help people find lost things, but I found out I'm good at losing things, not finding them," she laughed.

Alexandra also started a company with her father, Tuggle and Daughter String Instruments, where the two collect, lease and repair string instruments. Alexandra recently donated a bass she and her father fixed up to her school orchestra to help students who can't afford to buy their own instruments. She also donated a cello to the Brazilian Youth Orchestra that visited Tucson to play with Alexandra's chamber group.

Alexandra's passion for playing the violin has led to several awards, but that's not too important to Alexandra. Like most of the activities she does, "it's just fun," she said.

Alexandra has also taken up the banjo, piano and bass, which Dowdle said she takes very seriously in addition to having fun with it.

"She plays these very well," he said. "She performs in a very confident way."

But even with all of her exceptional qualities, Dowdle said she has a "humble spirit about her" too.

"You just don't often find that complete package," he said.

Also mixed into Alexandra's busy schedule is her love of animals, which just a couple of weeks ago took an emotional turn.

Alexandra and her family had been given an orphaned goat by a family friend that was only days old.

"You could hold it in the palm of your hand, it was so small," Sandra said.

Alexandra had diligently fed the animal every two hours for two days hoping to become a sort of foster mother to it.

But after two days, things took a turn for the worse.

While Alexandra was at school, the goat's health began to fail and, after a visit to the vet, it died.

"She's been quiet for a few days now, not really wanting to talk too much," Sandra said.

In the meantime, though, Alexandra has plenty of other animals to take care of, including her two greyhounds, Max and Juliet.

Alexandra adopted the greyhounds through a service that places dogs that are too old for racing.

"They're pretty neat and they're really fast," Alexandra said. "Max was very stubborn, but you can get him to do almost anything for food."

Alexandra also has two miniature horses that she loves to visit whenever she gets a chance. Alexandra is too big to ride them, so she has been taking horseback riding lessons for about six months.

"It's really fun to go fast," she said.

She has been learning how to care for horses through her 4-H club, which she joined after quitting the Girl Scouts.

"She just decided one day that the Girl Scouts wasn't for her," Sandra said. "She knew exactly what she wanted, so we just went with it."

Another decision Alexandra has made that her parents have decided to go along with is her transfer to Green Fields Country Day School, 6000 N. Camino de la Tierra where she will be going in the fall.

Alexandra said one sole factor sealed the deal when deciding whether to continue at Casas Christian School or transfer to Green Fields -- Harry Potter, a popular children's book and movie character whose books have been banned from Casas for its content about magic and wizardry.

"I love Harry Potter," Alexandra said. "It's really exciting. It takes you somewhere where you couldn't go in reality."

After Green Fields, the sky is the limit for Alexandra -- literally.

"I want to be one of the first people to help build a settlement on Titan," she said. "It's one of the moons on Saturn and it has an atmosphere similar to Earth's. I like space a lot."

Before traveling into space, though, Alexandra said she wants to go to college to become a veterinarian.

"She wants to take care of the animals on the Space Station and play her violin to entertain the other astronauts," her mother joked.

Sandra said she would like to see Alexandra go to college in England, but Alexandra said she might have other plans.

"I used to want to go there," Alexandra said. "Now I think I want to go to the University of Kentucky to be an equine vet."

Her parents said they know that whatever decision Alexandra decides to make will be the best one for her.

"She's just growing up so fast," Sandra said. "She goes and we follow. She's just that way."

KALEENA SHEALY

When Kaleena Shealy was about to enter high school as a freshman four years ago, she told her mother that she wanted to get the "absolute most out of high school" that she could get.

As she nears graduation next month and reflects on her four years at Mountain View High School, she can emphatically say, "mission accomplished."

In her four years she's maintained a 3.5 grade point average; served as junior and senior class president; been the editor of the school newspaper for two years; mediated student conflicts as a member of the school's peer mediation program; made the honor roll and became a member of the National Honor Society; chaired homecoming, winter formal and prom dance committees; served on a dozen other school event committees; served on the principal's advisory council; served on the school's site-based council; did charity work with Habitat for Humanity and for Make A Difference Day; was a cheerleader for two years; and volunteered to coach Pop Warner cheerleaders.

For all of the above, the Northwest EXPLORER has recognized her as one of its Young EXPLORERs of the Year. The annual award recognizes youth in the community who have worked to make the lives of others better and who serve as role models for their peers.

But while Shealy's high school resume is impressive, the most astounding part is that she accomplished much of the above while only seeing her parents once a month during her junior and senior years.

Shealy's mother, Lenora, is a vice president with Fidelity National Title. During the summer of 2000 between Shealy's sophomore and junior years, her mother was offered the opportunity to manage Fidelity's operation in two Northern California counties.

Though the job was important to her career, Lenora said she and her husband had both changed schools more than eight times when they were young and, not wanting to put their daughter through the turmoil they went through so often, decided to refuse the job.

"My husband and I are both Air Force brats and we just could not find it within ourselves to take Kaleena out of school. And so we were going to turn the job down," Lenora Shealy said.

"I had made the decision not to take the job and both Kaleena and her brother were very insistent that I do this because this was something that I had been working for my whole career."

Kaleena had already been elected as the junior class president and named editor of the school newspaper. If she left, she would be giving up those leadership positions which she had worked hard to achieve.

When Fidelity agreed to fly Lenora and husband Patrick back to Tucson once a month during the school year, the family decided to give it a try and the elder Shealys left for Redding, Calif., just as Kaleena's junior year began.

"We left all of our furniture, we left everything there, we didn't even bring dishes because we wanted the kids to have their home," Lenora said.

For Kaleena, the first few months without her parents were the hardest.

"It was tough to stay motivated. I knew if I did anything wrong, if I got in trouble or if my grades started dropping my parents would pull me up there," Kaleena said. "My friends thought I was so lucky but I was scared."

"The worst part was not having them there if I had a bad day. I could still call them but it's not like they're sitting across from me," she said.

Though there were some rough spots, Shealy has kept her grades up and continued the high level of participation in her school life.

"The reason we were able to do this is because Kaleena has always been older than her years," Lenora Shealy said. "She's very much a self starter, very much self motivated and I've never really directed her in anything. She does what she does because she has a need inside of herself to do those things."

School newspaper advisor and English teacher Andrew Morrill also marvels at Kaleena's ability to motivate herself.

"She's just money in the bank," Morrill said. "She didn't have to get the big lecture about how to manage her time. She was just incredibly organized right from the start."

Kaleena said there isn't a day that goes by during the school year that she doesn't have a task to accomplish as part of her many duties outside of school work.

Even when she's in school she's frequently not in class, from participating in a student government committee meeting, conducting an interview with faculty member for a newspaper story, or helping resolve student conflicts through peer mediation.

Yet her grades have remained consistently excellent, though she's pays a price, often staying up until midnight to get homework done, she said.

She admits to getting tired now and again, and also to spending a few moments on the couch watching TV. But then guilt sets in.

"There's always something I need to be doing," she said.

Because she's just a teen, the adults in her life -- her parents and teachers, mostly -- sometimes worry that she's burning the candle brightly at both ends and may be heading for a crash.

Not Kaleena.

"I love it. I thrive on it," she said. "I have never wanted to be an everyday ordinary student who just comes to school and goes home."

"A lot of students complain about things at school. I've always felt that you can't complain if you're not willing to be involved and try to change it."

Nearing the completion of her high school years it's natural to ask if all that hard work was worth it or what she thinks her greatest achievement was.

Her said she thinks Kaleena's legacy will be in how most of the work she did at the school was to make the school better for everyone.

"She cares a lot about other people. What you do for other people andwhat you do to make her than what you wear and what you like," Lenora said.

For Morrill, Shealy's legacy will be how she worked to bring the school together.

"Her legacy is going to be that you can be a positive influence in a school; you can occupy positions of high profile; you can be a student leader; and yet not separate yourself from the rest of the student body," Morrill said.

"Her picture may not be in the front office of Mountain View with merit finalists and she may not be the valedictorian but she contributes to that fabric that you want in a school. That's real cohesiveness.

"She'll go down in my personal history at Mountain View as one of the nicest students I've ever taught and undoubtedly the best editor in 14 years running," he said.

"She lets you remember why you get into the job. Nobody loves teaching every single day of the year. She's one of those students that keeps you coming back."

Kaleena said she just hopes she made a difference.

"I feel I've definitely impacted people's lives. I think I've gotten people involved in school who wouldn't be otherwise," she said.

But she added that the thing she is most proud of is that she accomplished so much without her parents around.

"I've worked very hard to keep my life in balance and to keep my grades up," she said. "I had to learn to be very organized. I think it will help me a lot in college."

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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