Life is never easy, it just takes some effort and perseverance.
Lupita Mendoza, a student at Brookwood High School, knows that better than most. She has experienced one challenge after another, but she has never given up. Instead, she pushed herself to do her best and to pursue her goals.
Mendoza is Brookwood High School’s winner of the La Crosse Tribune Extra Effort Award.
Her earliest challenge was hearing and speaking. She didn’t begin speaking until after she was diagnosed with 60 percent hearing loss at age 3.
“I think the only reason (my parents) found out is because I wasn’t speaking,” she said. “I would always just point at stuff, and I guess they found that they had to be speaking louder to me.”
Eventually, one of her aunts mentioned to Mendoza’s mother, Maribel, about getting her hearing checked. She underwent the hearing exam along with her younger sister, Maggie, who was diagnosed with 40 percent hearing loss.
Coming to terms with her hearing loss was scary at first, said Mendoza, who was fitted with hearing aids in both ears. She didn’t know what to make of all the sounds she could suddenly hear.
“I would love to just to go to the bathroom and flush the toilet and just watch the water go,” Mendoza recalled. “After I could hear, I did that, and I got very scared, so I didn’t do it anymore. ... They always tell me that I was very scared coming out of the hospital. It was totally different.”
Hearing the birds for the first time left an impression, Mendoza said.
“I guess I didn’t know there were birds or anything because I couldn’t hear them,” she said. “It’s a beautiful sound, and just being able to hear that, I’m very blessed.”
Learning to speak was difficult. She didn’t start speaking until she was four or five, a task complicated by the fact that she was learning more than one language.
“(I was) assigned this teacher to come to our house once a week just to do my sign language just in case my speaking didn’t improve so I can have a backup,” she said. “I guess at home I was talking in Spanish with my mom, learning that, and in school I was learning English, so I just learned both of them at the same time. It was kind of a challenge, but I guess it just became a routine.”
Mendoza is proud of how far she has come since then.
“Now I know how to talk English, Spanish (and) some sign language, because I was in sign language class when I was younger, and right now I currently go to a sign language class right now ... to just learn more,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people have noticed (my hearing problems) because I have improved ... and I have long hair, so it covers (the hearing aids).”
While she can now speak both English and Spanish, school can still be a challenge.
“I’m always lip reading,” she said. “With teachers, it’s kind of hard if they’re turned around toward the board, so I kind of have to ... work harder to get my good grades. ... I don’t know how people can like talk during class, but I can’t do it; I have to focus and just pay attention and study hard, too.”
Her perseverance and drive have paid off. She’s involved in AP level courses such as English literature, calculus, physics and Youth Options courses. She has also completed a certified nursing assistant course, is a member of the National Honor Society and Diversity Club, volunteers at her church and works as a child care provider after school.
School psychologist and director of Special Education and Pupil Services Cindy Kohlmeier-Springborn, who nominated Mendoza for the Extra Effort Award, is impressed with what Mendoza has accomplished. She first met Mendoza when she was three years old after her parents enrolled her in Early Childhood Special Education due to her moderate-severe hearing loss in both ears.
“Lupita Mendoza is one of the most empathetic and compassionate students that I have had the pleasure to know throughout my 22 years in education,” she said. “It’s been my privilege to oversee her education and growth for the past 15 years. Lupita has grown from a shy, hearing-impaired little girl who was trying to learn two languages into a confident, intelligent and bilingual young woman with a desire to serve others. I am proud of her accomplishments.”
Mendoza’s biggest motivator to do well is her mother, Maribel, who after her father left, raised four girls by herself. Mendoza said her mother always tells her and her three sisters — Cecilia, Maggie and Jimena — that they can achieve what they want if they work hard enough for it.
“Sometimes it’s difficult, but my mom has always been there for me,” she said. “That’s why my mom is my great motivator. She just pushes us, like if we want to be a doctor, she ... pushes us into being a doctor.”
Her mother is also why Mendoza wants to finish high school and go to college.
“Because my mom worked so hard, I want to prove to her that I can do something good in life — so I’ve always been pushing myself to get As and Bs, and I do have them,” she said. “My mom didn’t have the chance to graduate high school, so my sisters and I ... want to thank my mom and that we appreciate that we could go to school. We want to get over high school and go for college, and when we get older we can help my mom out.”
Another motivator for Mendoza is her boyfriend of more than two years, Eduardo Reyes, who has been battling cancer.
“That was very hard − it kind of distracted me from school, but he’s doing a lot better,” she said. “But he’s always pushing me … he’s always telling me to work my best to be able to go to college.”
Despite the difficulties, Mendoza is happy with the life she has. She describes herself as fortunate.
“I wake up in the morning and I say, ‘Thank you,’ “ she said. “I see a lot of things as a blessing. Some people don’t see the good things they have or how blessed they are to have all the things they have.”
After high school, Mendoza plans to attend Western Technical College for two years before transferring to Viterbo University in La Crosse. She hopes to pursue a career in the medical field.
“I’m a person that doesn’t like to see people suffer,” she said. “I kind of want to do something where, I’m not sure what I want to do, but I kind of want a job where they can come in and talk to you about their problems — more than like giving shots.”