Upstate Parent’s Students Who Make a Difference come from nominations received from teachers and administrators of schools in Greenville, Spartanburg and Pickens counties. These fifth graders represent a bright future for us all. Their reach goes beyond academics, though many excel in that arena as well. They display caring, compassion, a spirit of service and passion about a variety of causes and endeavors. They are leaders, doers and the helping hands of those around them. 

Join us in congratulating these 10 outstanding students. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. 

Victor Sandres Aguilar stands out from the crowd through his kindness to others. 

A student at Blythe Academy in Greenville, Victor and his family came to the United States from Honduras in late 2018. The 11-year-old is quickly learning English and is a high achiever in his classes.

“My mom helps me with my English, and I help her,” he said. 

 But it’s his overwhelming kindness that helps Victor make a difference. He volunteers with the school’s safety patrol and has bonded with many of the younger students as he makes sure they get to class safely. He makes a special effort to include students who are new and those who don’t have many friends. 

“When I came here, I didn’t know anything,” he said. “There was a kid who, every time I asked for help, he would help me. I said when I learned English, I would be like him. I want to help people just to be kind. Like my teacher said, don’t be in inertia. Inertia means doing nothing. You have to have energy. I try to be nice. When someone is bullying, I tell them to stop. I’m not a bystander.”

Victor is passionate about technology and he said he wants a career in that field when he grows up. For now, he is enjoying the chance to help others in his new home. 

“I love it here because there’s no danger here,” he said. “I feel safe in my school, in my house and in my country.”

Olivia Battocchio’s positive attitude and caring spirit help her serve as a role model to other students. 

Olivia is a student at Jesse Boyd Elementary in Spartanburg, where she is already building up an impressive list of accomplishments. It doesn’t hurt that she is very well organized and always ready for the next thing to come her way.

“I still get my homework done,” Olivia said.

From competitive dancing and church league basketball to singing in her school’s chorus and acting in the school play, Olivia finds time to participate but also to serve. Currently, she is selling homemade soap to raise money for Matthew Loves Books, a program created to give a book to each baby admitted to Upstate Neonatal Intensive Care Units. The effort is part of her Girl Scout Bronze Award.

“Research says if they get read to in the NICU, they understand words better when they grow up,” Olivia said. 

Oliva’s crafty tendencies extend to making blueberry marmalade as part of a church program to raise money for outreach. She sees service as an opportunity, not an obligation.

“Every Friday at my school, I get to help special needs classes,” she said. “I get to encourage them with learning and play with them. It’s for the good and from the heart. I like spending time with them because a lot of people don’t know how sweet they are.”

Nicko Canavos is already known among teachers and peers as a natural leader.

A student at Mitchell Road Elementary in Greenville, he attends Greek School twice a week and is learning to read Greek. He enjoys boxing and basketball and he also danced and volunteered at the Greek Festival in Greenville last fall. His interests are varied and deep, and they serve him well in his education and in helping others. His favorite subject is Social Studies.

“It amazes me some of the things people do – like Martin Luther King, Jr. giving speeches and Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address,” Nicko said.

Nicko is passionate about reading and learning. His father, Jim Canavos, said Nicko is like a sponge, always ready to absorb new information. At school, Nicko volunteers with the safety patrol and is known for being inquisitive, humble and respectful, as well as for showing a great deal of maturity. He enjoys serving others by encouraging them and sharing help if they are struggling, especially with schoolwork.

“I like helping my friends at school because then after school, we get to play a lot more,” Nicko said. “I like to help my teachers with things.”

Carter Cisson already knows that perseverance, faith and kindness can change a life. 

One of four children, Carter is a student at Fork Shoals School in Pelzer. Her mother, Misty Cisson, said Carter has an auditory processing disorder that means she learns differently, mostly through memory and flashcards. She worked hard to get to grade level and then become an honor roll student. Her father passed away three years ago, leading Carter to become a big help to her mother and her siblings. Empathy leads the way in her service.

“She can sense when someone is having a bad day,” Misty Cisson said. “She is the first to walk up to them and give them a hug. She’s always checking in on other people.”

That attitude shows up at school as well, where she is known to be especially caring to others. Carter also sings at her church, volunteers with her school’s safety patrol and is part of a ministry that serves meals to those who are homeless. The meal ministry is something Carter especially enjoys.

“I meet a whole bunch of sweet people there,” she said. 

Carter’s kindness to others and her concern for them makes a difference in her school and in her community. 

“I really care about how people feel,” Carter said. “I like to make everybody feel happy.”

Cora Miller has made it her mission to speak up for others.

A student at Hollis Academy in Greenville, she studies visual arts through Greenville County’s ARMES (Arts Reaching Middle and Elementary Schools) program and has turned the family’s kitchen table into an art hub. But her creativity extends to solving problems and helping others as well. 

Cora is part of her school’s morning news program. She is learning Spanish so she can give the morning lunch announcements so all students can understand. She also mentors a younger student and a student in a self-contained class. Cora is known for her efforts to be inclusive. 

“I really like helping people,” she said. 

Cora plans to one day be an author and illustrator – or maybe a teacher, artist or motivational speaker. No matter what her career path, she won’t hesitate to speak up for others. In fact, her voice is one of the most important tools she uses to help. 

“When I was in second grade, I would talk a lot,” she said. “A lot of kids didn’t like that I talked a lot. We had a conference. My teacher said it was a good thing and that I was being a leader. That inspired me.”

When Hadley Miller isn’t on the basketball court, you can bet that she is busy working on – or at least thinking about – a project that benefits the community.

In her first year at Christ Church Episcopal School, Hadley has already made a lasting impression on teachers and students through her positive attitude. 

Outside of school, Hadley volunteers in several ways, including baking cookies for a prison ministry and serving at Project Host. She also loves writing and she plays on a travel basketball team.

“When I go out in the community and I know I’ve made a difference – you feel you’ve done something to help other people and there’s just a smile plastered on your face,” she said. 

Hadley’s mother, Kyley Miller, said her daughter has always been sort of an old soul with a great deal of empathy for others. 

“Injustice really bothers her,” she said. “She is grateful, and she understands that she has a lot to be thankful for.”

Hadley, along with her family, serves through a variety of opportunities at Christ Church, where they are active members. 

“Every month, we do something different,” Hadley said. “One of my favorite things to do is to go to the Greenville Rescue Mission. People feel welcomed. Probably for a lot of their life, they’ve been ignored. They feel welcomed and loved and know people are glad they’re there.”

William Pham loves learning and he has big plans for the future. It’s not hard to imagine that he will succeed no matter what he undertakes

William is a student at Monaview Elementary School in Greenville where he is described as a confident, well rounded, community leader. His parents came to this country from Vietnam and speak little English. William said one of his goals is to learn more about his family’s culture. He already shares some of that with others.

“I speak fluent Vietnamese and I help other people branch out to Vietnamese food,” he said. 

Last year, William served as the captain of Monaview’s Battle of the Books team. Modeling leadership and sportsmanship, he led his team to victory in the regional competition by defeating nearly 20 other teams, something that had not been done by a Monaview team in more than a decade. This year, he participates in several programs, including Challenge and Men Who Read Dress for Success, and he will represent his school at the Peace Center this spring during the annual Spring Sing concert. 

Recently, William spoke about the Men Who Read program to participants of the Diversity Leadership Institute at a presentation at Furman University, leading several participants to financially support Monaview’s library. For William, it was yet another opportunity to learn, lead and discover where and how he can make an impact. 

“At Furman, before I got to speak there were conferences going on,” he said. “I listened thoroughly to that and I introduced myself to lots of people.”

When asked what he plans to be when he grows up, William’s focus remains on leadership and using his talents to make a difference.

“I was thinking maybe President of the United States,” he said. 

Reece Smith is known for how kind she is to others, which is an admirable legacy at any age. 

A student at Lake Forest Elementary School in Greenville, Reece volunteers to work with younger students in the school’s after-school program, serves in the Junior Beta Club helping with the school’s butterfly garden and is part of safety patrol. She makes it a point to walk with and assist students with disabilities.

“If they need help, I’ll help them,” she said. “I love to help them if they need it.”

“Even at a very young age, she has always been very shy and quiet,” Beverley Smith, Reece’s mother, said. “However, when she gets around animals, she is different.”

Riding horses once a week has helped Reece find her voice.

“That has translated to her really, really enjoying helping with the after-school program,” Beverley Smith said. 

At school, Reece is described as compassionate, caring, humble, loving, kind and generous. Empathy is a guiding force for her as she works to be a friend and help every student feel at home.

“She hurts when she sees other people hurt or upset,” Beverley Smith said. “That hurts her heart.”

Phoenix Thalassenos is already a leader at Fountain Inn Elementary and beyond.

A travel baseball player, Phoenix also finds time to serve in the school’s Beta Club and Safety Patrol, as well as the Special Needs Mentor Club, where he works with his buddy weekly on how to correctly interact with others and gain confidence in himself.  

“I like helping them because we get to interact and play games,” he said. “It helps them be more social, and I like that.”

Phoenix was elected as President of the Elementary Junior Beta Club of South Carolina at the organization’s meeting in Myrtle Beach, where he gave a speech in front of about 3,000 people. 

“I had to say a speech in front of everybody,” he said. 

Phoenix said he enjoys the service aspects of Beta Club, especially programs like making cards for nursing home residents. With baseball as his first career choice, he said he might also want to work as a nurse or doctor or maybe even a forensic scientist. 

“I like making people feel better,” he said. “I want to make them enjoy life.”

Bella Young channels her positive energy into spreading joy.

At Chandler Creek Elementary School, she serves in Beta Club and participates in chorus, student council, Drama Club, Engineering Club, G.E.M.S, (Girls Engaged and Motivated at School) and Battle of the Books. She is also a peer tutor to younger students. After school, she is on a swim team and helps with the Greer High Football team, where her dad, Will Young, coaches. Her mother, Michelle Young, is volleyball coach at Furman University. 

“Having coaches as parents helps me motivate people,” Bella said. “I see them firsthand motivate people.”

Bella is said to make a difference at her school by going the extra mile for students and teachers and spreading positivity. That contagious attitude is part of why she is loved by her peers and has become a leader at school. 

“I feel like everybody has problems in their life,” Bella said. “It feels nice when you get helped and when you help other people.”

Read or Share this story: