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Isabella Dohnke, 2023 Salutatorian at Valley Oaks Charter School

"Hard-working and serious, good at art, opinionated and assertive, willing to stand up for herself when wronged, unafraid to publicly advocate for neurodivergent people." This is what classmates of Isabella Donke said they would remember about the senior and salutatorian.

Having attended Valley Oaks Charter School since the third grade, Isabella set a high bar in her academic work, completing seven college courses during her high school years. She was recognized by her peers for her willingness to help them with their labs in Chemistry.

A renaissance woman, Isabella loves literature, art, drama, music, writing and learning languages. She played the role of Puck in a modified version of "Midsummer Night's Dream," and participated in Zoom acting classes during the COVID quarantine. In addition to writing her own blog, she took second place in this year's Four Way Test Essay contest from the Rotary Club of Tehachapi. Isabella is a digital photography artist and won awards in the Tehachapi Youth Art Contest. In addition, Isabella has also performed during the Open Mic event at Valley Oaks High School. Additionally, Isabella embraced her love for learning languages, studying Norwegian, French, American Sign Language and is currently learning Japanese.

As if those accomplishments weren't not enough, Isabella was involved in numerous other extracurricular activities. Isabella participated in Associated Student Body, Yearbook, Prom Committee, First Tech Challenge Robotics and Interact Club where she held the position of secretary. Having had a personal experience with a late diagnosis of autism, Isabella understands firsthand the struggles of those with sensory issues. She volunteered to speak three times to the Fresno Pacific University School Psychology program to help spread awareness about autism. She also volunteers at King Educational as a Peer Assistant working with neurodivergent students in areas such as communication, social skills and educational support.

Isabella is attending UC Merced, Fall 2023. She plans to major in Cognitive Science, where she hopes to study either the effects of trauma on the brain for those of specific cultural and linguistic backgrounds, or explore the impact of genetics and education on the individual experience of neurodiversity. She hopes to study abroad her junior year of college and possibly earn her Masters degree overseas. Isabella credits her mom and teachers at Valley Oaks for helping her realize her potential and for shaping her current life course.