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Turlock High student rises above tragedy
Turlock High girl 2
Turlock High School junior Heather Johnson was among five Turlock area students honored with the Every Student Succeeding Award. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

From the outside looking in it would appear as though Heather Johnson’s story is one of absolute tragedy — but Stephanie doesn’t see it that way.  At 14 she lost her mother, and last year she lost her father. Both parents led troubled lifestyles that ended tragically. If there was ever a reason for a teenager to give up hope, she certainly had one.

But Heather, now a successful junior at Turlock High School, said she has learned from their mistakes, as well as accomplishments.

“I learned a lot of good qualities from my mother. She taught me to not only have respect for myself, but for my elders and authority. She taught me about responsibility and taking care of my little sister,” said Johnson. “I don’t look at this as a tragedy, but an opportunity to rise above.”

Heather has never looked for sympathy and she finds her inner strength through openly talking about her life to others. She knows that her life is a work in progress but she understands that a positive attitude will help her, along with the supportive staff at THS.

Teachers at THS organized a school-wide donation of clothes, toiletries and gift cards for Heather and her 14-year-old sister Amanda, who now live with their uncle in Turlock.

Her psychology teacher, Ryan Tribble, had high praise for her personal resolve.

“Heather is an exemplary young human being. She is addressing her life in a fashion that isn’t ‘I got it under control,’ but rather an ‘I’m learning how to handle it’ and it is proven daily in the classroom and when she leaves this establishment, she does her homework and pays rent and bills. She not only contemplates her own growth but also is conscious of her behaviors as an influence to her little sister. I am very proud of her and her ability to persevere with a sober mind and body,” he said.

Recently, Heather was honored, along with several other Turlock area students, by local politicians and leaders during the Every Student Succeeding awards program in Modesto. Every Student Succeeding honors students who have overcome and succeeded against challenges, have gone beyond expectations and have won the hearts of their teachers and staff. The honor is given by the Association of School Administrators Stanislaus Charter and the Stanislaus County Office of Education.

Her advice to other teenagers is to “appreciate your parents, you never know what you have until it’s gone. A lot of kids say things like ‘I hate my parents’ but they don’t really they just are sick of them telling them what to do,” she said.

Heather’s maturity is well beyond her years and she has earned the respect of her fellow classmates. Last week she was elected to become next school year’s senior class president for Turlock High. To make things better, she recently obtained her driver’s license and last quarter she held an impressive 4.0 grade point average.

“Heather always has a smile on her face and a positive attitude. She comes to class ready to learn. She is consistent with all her homework and class work and does an exceptional work. Heather is a beautiful young lady inside and out. She is a great role model for any student,” said Ruth Mulhearn, Heather’s Spanish teacher.

In the future Heather would like to go into nursing, however, her ultimate goal is very simple.

“I just want to be happy, have a job that provides for my family and me. I don’t wants lots of money, just enough to live a normal, functional life,” she said.