Salute to Oak Bay’s Young Exceptional Stars

2016's YES Awards presented in celebration at Oak Bay Recreation Centre

The 2016 winners of Oak Bay's Young Exceptional Star Awards and the awards presenters

The 2016 winners of Oak Bay's Young Exceptional Star Awards and the awards presenters

Oak Bay celebrated its young people last Thursday, honouring 12 deserving students with Young Exceptional Star Awards.

A full house applauded as the ninth annual YES Awards were presented at Oak Bay Recreation Centre’s Sports View Lounge.

Guests included Oak Bay mayor and councillors, MLA Andrew Weaver, representatives from local schools, the business community and others.

The awards emphasize the positive achievements of Oak Bay’s young people by recognizing those who have distinguished themselves in such areas as volunteerism, arts, citizenship, academics, athletics and/or who have overcome obstacles to achieve their goals.

The Oak Bay News is pleased to share the stories of this year’s winners with our readers in a special section in today’s paper.

Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, YES Awards chair, also thanked awards sponsors the Kiwanis Club of Oak Bay, Carlton House, Oak Bay Pharmasave, Coast Capital Savings, Edward Jones, Royal LePage Coast Capital Realty, Digital Direct Printing and the Oak Bay News for their support, along with Athlone Travel, District of Oak Bay, Oak Bay Business Improvement Association, Rotary Club of Oak Bay, Oak Bay-Gordon Head Constituency Office, RBC Oak Bay and the University of Victoria.


Cara Butler, Grade 10, Oak Bay High School

Nominator Nichelle Soetaert says Cara Butler is an outstanding young woman – driven, kind, diligent, reliable, creative and dedicated to all of her endeavours. She inspires her peers to become more engaged in the community and consistently emerges as a leader both inside and outside of the classroom.

Butler’s teachers consider it a genuine pleasure to have her in class, her peers seek her out for advice and guidance, and the influence of her generosity and dedication is felt from Oak Bay all the way to Vicente Guerrero, Mexico.

Butler’s academic prowess is extremely impressive and she achieved at or above 93 per cent in each of her eight classes. She competes with the senior field hockey team, competed provincially in track and field and is a leader on Oak Bay’s junior soccer team.

As a Grade 10 student, Butler was involved in Cops for Cancer, working tirelessly during summer and through September to organize fundraisers and plan the arrival of the Tour de Rock participants. At every event, she wore a smile and encouraged others to be engaged in the process, leading by example.

She was also involved in Oak Bay’s Live Different program, travelling with 35 other students to Mexico to build a home for a deserving family. The commitment required by this program is intensive and

Butler was committed from the start, raising money for the “Jail or Bail” event, spending countless hours preparing for the dance and connecting with all group members.

During the trip, she was always actively involved. She helped others understand and cope with intense emotions and was able to connect with the larger world at a very deep level.


Vanilia Chotou, Grade 8, Monterey Middle School

Vanilia Chotou excels in all areas.

Her teachers say they have been struck by Vanilia’s tremendous work ethic and high academic standards that she has kept throughout her time at Monterey, consistently maintaining an A average through eight terms as a middle school student.

In addition to academics, Chotou has contributed her talents to a number of sport clubs and activities at school and in the community.

Her volleyball achievements are particularly impressive. She was a member of Monterey Grade 7 city championship team, and is widely considered one of the best players in the city.

She was recently chosen to represent the VVA City Selects in the coming club season.

In addition, her contribution to her school’s leadership program has been outstanding.

Chotou is the type of person that can be counted on to get the job done, no matter what.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Chotou’s success is that she has only been in Canada for three years.

She moved to Victoria from Greece in 2013 and has adapted to a new language and culture with remarkable speed.

Teacher Josh Elsdon said he had no hesitation in nominating Chotou for the Young Exceptional Star Award, not only because of her academic strengths and athletic successes, but also for her willingness to contribute to the positive environment of her school and community.


Kaden Cortini, Grade 8, Monterey Middle School

As Kaden Cortini’s Grade 8 teacher and mentor in the Monterey Institute of Technology, nominator and teacher Josh Elsdon has had a chance to get to know Cortini in a variety of environments. He has shown himself to be a Young Exceptional Star in many ways.

During Cortini’s first term at a new school, Elsdon noticed the student brought a truly impressive skillset into Monterey and the MIT program. Cortini is a self-taught digital artist, graphic designer and animator – while most students his age are playing video games, Cortini is making art that rivals the best graphics in the most cutting-edge games. (check out his designs at )

A brilliant young man, Cortini has the all the makings of a top-notch science and math student. He is a flexible, analytical thinker and is eloquent when passionate about a topic.

He is also a remarkably successful entrepreneur.

Despite already having a job helping his mother in her own business, Cortini has leveraged his incredible digital art skills into an e-commerce business that is already generating $500 to $1,000 per month.

Advertising only through client referrals, Cortini is known for providing an outstanding, high-end product.


Annabelle Fieltsch, Grade 8, Lansdowne Middle School

Nominated by her principal, Louise Sheffer, Annabelle Fieltsch is a top student, receiving straight As across the board – especially impressive as she was enrolled in late French immersion, and her French is better than almost all of the early French immersion students. She has overcome the barrier of completely learning a new language and has excelled in less than two years.

Her talents and dedication extend into Lansdowne’s music program. She is involved in band and choir, and is part of both jazz bands and the Firebirds, an advanced concert band. She studies piano privately and is currently working on her Grade 8 piano repertoire – all in addition to the work she does at school, both academically and musically.

Additionally, Fieltsch takes a leadership role within the ensembles and within her music sections, going above and beyond to learn her piano music for jazz band. She also tutors violin and cello and is always willing to help othersto excel and learn.

Fieltsch is always happy and willing to help both at school and with the other youth groups she volunteers with in the community.  She has been involved in sports, playing on several school teams including volleyball and basketball. Truly, Fieltsch has worked hard to make a team commitment to both music and sports.


Rose Hanneson-Schwenger, Grade 8, Monterey Middle School

Rose Hanneson-Schwenger was nominated for a YES Award by teachers Kelly Dodds and Alissa Moore, who felt she was a natural nominee in the areas of citizenship, academics and community-minded action.

A delight to teach and work with at Monterey, Hanneson-Schwenger is kind and thoughtful and always follows through, regardless of how much she has on her plate. She has been a key player in making her school a better place. Her enthusiasm and spirit generated success in the school-wide Terry Fox run, welcoming of the new Grade 6s, seasonal celebrations and organizing school sporting events.

A bright and creative young woman, Hanneson-Schwenger’s desire to do well is exemplified by the care she takes in her assignments and the questions she asks to confirm her understanding. She has many insightful and thoughtful ideas and is a reflective learner, thoughtfully making connections to her own life to deepen her understanding of the world around her.

In school, Ros takes the time and patience to model and help her peers, committing countless hours to the school and community. Consequently, her peers and our staff value and admire her. Hanneson-Schwenger’s calm and understated way is such that her passionate drive to exceed and help could go unnoticed. She needs no external reward; she is intrinsically motivated. An exceptional individual, she embodies traits her teachers hope students will develop: courage, strength, empathy, kindness and leadership, making Monterey a wonderful place to attend.

Rebecca Hartley, Grade 10,  Oak Bay High School

Rebecca Hartley has been astounding her nominator, teacher Jeff  Weaver, since the day she arrived at Oak Bay High School last September. According to him, she is a fantastic trumpet player and plays in the school Jazz Band.

Seeing a need to help the band, Hartley effortlessly switched to tuba – no small task! At festival last year she received accolades for her playing, actually fooling professional judges in to thinking she had been playing for years. This is a testament to her hours of practice and dedication to music.

As if that wasn’t enough, she joined every band class she could at Oak Bay High (five ensembles) and keeps up a rehearsal schedule that would make any normal teenager wince.

Her efforts at school and at home are second to none when it comes to her musical craft, and still she finds time to do more. Hartley maintains a high academic standard at school, volunteers to help her friends with their homework and carefully explains problems, tasks and projects with care.

In her spare time Hartley has a passion for literature, in particular reading and writing for youth. She is part of the Oak Bay Teen Council, helps at the library and recently organized a writing contest for youth.

While Hartley is quiet in nature and never seeks attention for her efforts, she deserves some attention and thanks for all she does at school and in her community.


Sidney Hurst, Grade 6, Monterey Middle School

Monterey Middle School teacher Kate Connelly felt that Sidney Hurst would be an excellent candidate for a 2016 Young Exceptional Star award for excelling in academics. According to Connelly, Hurst is so much more than an A student.

In addition to phenomenal organizational skills and perfect or near-perfect scores on all her tests and spelling tests, Hurst chose to forgo the regular Grade 6 spelling words in favour of CanSpell/Scripps spelling bee words.

She has scored 100 per cent on all her extremely difficult spelling tests which included words such as jnana (knowledge acquired through meditation), gnathonic (deceitfully flattering), schadenfreude (pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune and pfeffernuss (tiny spice cookies).

In addition to her academic excellence, Hurst is also a voracious reader and blogger. She devours novels and regularly blogs about the books she has read at

Hurst also demonstrates wonderful school participation and leadership. She is a member of the Library Literacy Leaders, which helps create displays and organize materials in the school library. She also competes on Monterey’s Book Battle team, where students read appointed novels and face off against other schools in a district-wide Trivia Bowl. A critical part of the winning team this year, Hurst kept calm under pressure as they advanced to the finals, and answered the final question to earn her team the victory.

Teachers can always rely on Hurst to be a team player, to be a responsible member of the school community, and a genuine asset to the library team.

Jasmine Lambert, Grade 10 Oak Bay

Teacher Brent Garraway has taught Jasmine Lambert for two years. A driven young woman with a zest for life, she usually wears a smile and tries to involve peers in class activities. She shows an amazing maturity in all she does and is destined to be a leader at Oak Bay.

On the basketball court Lambert was starting point guard for the B.C. bronze medal-winning senior girls’ team. Striving for continual improvement, her dedication led to a selection to Team BC.

Academic achievements are also exemplary. She has a 94 per cent average while balancing a hectic schedule. Teachers compliment her work habits and classroom demeanor and mention the energy she brings to class.

For 15 months Lambert was an alternate for Oak Bay’s Live Different program, where students build homes for families in Mexico. She participated in almost every activity right up to the trip, even when she knew she wouldn’t be going, participated in volunteering and fundraising. She even sent the group an amazing message on the day they left.

These actions show a maturity beyond her years. Even when the group returned and Lambert saw the new friendships and lessons learned, she spoke only about how proud she was of the group and their achievements.

Aiden Leibel Grade 10, Oak Bay High School

A Grade 10 student at Oak Bay High, Aiden Leibel is a member of Bella Voce, a concert choir inside the timetable, Men’s Choir and Jazz Express, the junior vocal jazz group. He also plays French horn and trumpet.

Choir teacher Sally Murphy, who nominated Leibel for the YES award, says he has an exceptionally beautiful voice. In Bella Voce Leibel is one of two basses and his outstanding voice and musicianship regularly make the difference in how the choir sounds. He is always on time to class, quickly memorizes his music and is always a strong anchor for whatever ensemble in which he sings.

Although he is only in Grade 10, Leibel is regularly chosen to do solos in choir and vocal jazz. In Men’s Choir he has been a shining star with outstanding solos. This year he successfully auditioned for Chamber Choir 2016-17, the top concert choir at Oak Bay High.

In band, Aiden is no less remarkable, bringing the same strong work ethic and exceptional musicianship to his instrumental playing. In concert band he plays French horn, quite a difficult instrument to master, and plays trumpet in jazz band.

In spite of his exceptional talent, Leibel is not arrogant in any way. He is simply blessed with a wonderful voice and is passionate about singing and music. He’s a real leader who inspires others to achieve excellence through his own modeling of hard work and willingness to take risks to improve.


Nicole Quast, Grade 10, Oak Bay High

Nicole Quast stands out as a hard-working, energetic, kind and compassionate student. A straight-A French Immersion student for five years, she doesn’t allow this academic ability to define her. There is no arrogance about her.

Quast is also a leader, working directly with others in need such as peer counselling, Best Buddies and Oaklands Sunset Market, and with fundraising and service work such as Cops for Cancer, Live Different, Student Counsel, DisasterAid Canada, Leadership and Interact Clubs, and costume and make-up crew for the musical Beauty and the Beast.

It is one thing to participate in a variety of activities; it is another to shine in them. Nicole shines, attested to by the recognition received from both peers and adults. While in Grade 9, Quast’s peers granted her three awards: Best Overall Leadership Student, Most Involved in the Community and Great Mentor. From the adult world, Quast was selected to attend the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards in Tacoma, received Volunteer Victoria’s 2015 Certificate of Recognition and was hired by Oaklands Community Centre as an intern Children’s Food Literacy Programmer.

Competent at planning, organizing and conducting meetings and activities, she does so with confidence and poise, speaking with clarity and focus. While she is willing to take things on projects on her own, she is also a team player quite capable of working with others to get the job done.


Elmer Thomas, Grade 6,  Monterey Middle School

Elmer Thomas is a Grade 6 student at Monterey Middle School, nominated by teachers Nessie Magee and Tara Baird.

A young man who has faced many challenges, in 2015, Thomas moved to a new city having to adjust to a new home, new school, new teachers and new friendships. Not an easy feat for anyone at any age.

Thomas has shown himself to be a lovely student who embraces an exceptional work ethic. He demonstrates a healthy thirst to learn, to achieve and to grow.  He has had to overcome great personal fears to open himself to significant personal growth.

In his journey to overcome such a variety of adversity, Thomas has exceeded all expectations. He has demonstrated himself to be a good student, a good friend and a young man who has experienced amazing growth.

He has demonstrated academic growth in math and reading, is his abilities in athletics, and is a wonderful citizen within the class and the school as a whole. He is the first to volunteer his help and support in many settings, and he is a boy who reflects and grows daily.


Jack Walmsley, Grade 8, Monterey Middle School

Jack Walmsley is “a fine individual, who does not fit into a neat box,” says teacher Amei Mai. A great athlete, he is on an elite Vancouver Island Premier League soccer team and played on Monterey’s volleyball team. He’s a straight-A student and lives with a brother with special needs; he’s inclusive and accepting all the time.

For group projects, Walmsley is a leader who can be paired with equally dynamic, intelligent and inquisitive students in the class, and they all excel. Walmsley stands out because he’s keeping the pace, delving into issues or deepening understanding of a concept alongside his peers. He doesn’t take things at face value.

But then, paired with a student too shy to speak in front of a group or a student with behaviour problems and  Walmsley operates in the same responsible, positive way. In short: he never waivers. He opens his heart, furthers learning and welcomes others inside his encouraging, inspiring circle. Being a motivator and a leader is just in his nature.

Walmsley’s writing process mirrors his values: stick-to-it-ness, determination, problem-solving, appreciation of creating rich imagery, self-reflection and having a great sense of humour.

Walmsley excels across the board: academically, in sports, team and school spirit and facing challenges. But when it comes to Walmsley, his strengths are interconnected; his soccer prowess is related to his writing success is related to his leadership strengths.