Stivers School for the Arts valedictorian Ebi Reyes Leiva is one of five Ohio students being honored Thursday night with the Children’s Defense Fund’s Beat the Odds Award.
The award goes to high school seniors who have overcome tremendous adversity to excel academically and give back to their communities. Winners receive a $5,000 scholarship and a laptop computer.
CDF officials said Reyes’ mother fled Costa Rica to escape abuse and came to America to find opportunity when Ebi was 8 years old. Frequent moves and little job stability meant living out of a suitcase at times, with Reyes attending 13 different schools and frequently going hungry.
Dayton Public Schools officials said Reyes flourished here, attending both Edwin Joel Brown and Ruskin PreK-8 schools, before settling in at Stivers. There, she served as vice president of the Junior Council on World Affairs, competed on academic teams and was part of the National Honor Society.
Reyes said with money still tight, she got a job working as an interpreter at a roofing company to help her family. In ninth grade, she was in and out of the hospital as she learned she suffers from celiac disease.
“Homework that should take an hour to finish took me five hours,” she said. “My anxiety was high because I tried to keep up and stay in class.”
Now Saturday, she’ll graduate as Stivers’ valedictorian at Dayton’s Masonic Center.
Reyes is in the United States legally as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but that status has certain limitations. She said the CDF scholarship will give her resources to attend college, since she is ineligible for federal grants due to her DACA status.
“It opens a world of possibilities for me,” said Reyes, who may pursue studies in the medical field. “Every year we are here is a privilege.”