Monserrat Hernandez Escobar, North Salem High School Class of 2021 (Courtesy photo)

Monserrat Hernandez Escobar knew many classmates at North Salem High School had fears this spring about resuming in-person classes.

Some were anxious after a year with little social interaction. Some worried about their academic progress. Some had loved ones sickened or die.

“I know that a lot of people lost family members or friends to Covid. And so it was really personal to them,” Hernandez Escobar said.

As a member of the Salem-Keizer School District’s student equity committee, Hernandez Escobar, 18, wanted to make sure student views was factored into the return. She helped survey students across the district and used that to give advice to district administrators about how to communicate about the return. That included making sure mask-wearing was reinforced by school employees wearing their own.

Her goal was to ease the return to the classroom for as many students as possible.

“We talked about how we can make that possibility for everybody that wants it without fear,” she said.

Hernandez Escobar said students also wanted educators to show their personal side instead of just focusing on academic progress.

“When teachers ask us how our days are, they ask us those personal questions, there’s more of a connection, and we feel overall safer,” she said.

Hernandez Escobar’s teachers said she’s been a model student, encouraging others to participate in class discussions and earning near-perfect grades over her four years at North.

“She's kind of one of those teacher dreams, where she gets it done and you don't have to question and it’s done with quality,” said teacher Sarah Cowan.

Her work on the equity committee is one of several leadership roles Hernandez Escobar has held during her time at North.

Last spring, Hernandez Escobar served as president of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan club, focused on Latino culture and community service. It’s one of North’s largest clubs.

When the pandemic shuttered schools and made holding elections for new officers difficult, club advisor Cipriano Mañon-Muñoz asked Hernandez Escobar if she’d be willing to stay on another year to help him keep things running.

That meant helping him learn how to use Zoom, running late evening meetings.

She didn’t hesitate to agree.

“Sometimes kids, high achievers, they're laser-focused on their academics. But this kid is not just academics, but also can bring in the people with her,” Mañon-Muñoz said.

Throughout the year, Mañon-Muñoz said Hernandez Escobar checked in with younger club members, making sure they had the help they needed for service projects and events.

Hernandez Escobar said her family had some challenges during her childhood, so she pursued clubs at school to connect with others. She also wanted activities to balance out a demanding academic schedule.

“I started liking it, because I noticed that I wasn't just a part of a club, I was a part of like a small family within North. So that was really, really nice,” she said.

Hernandez Escobar will attend Stanford University in the fall with a Gates Scholarship which will pay for tuition, living expenses, supplies and travel costs not covered by the university’s financial aid.

She celebrated that by taking to her teachers doughnuts flying a miniature Stanford flag, Cowan said.

Hernandez Escobar plans to study psychology and biology and eventually attend medical school. She’s part of the first generation in her family to attend college and said her time at North has prepared her well.

“Being part of a diverse community has really allowed me to be … open-minded to new cultures, anything that's unknown to me,” she said. “North has really given me that. And I'm really happy and proud of its diversity.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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