Success Stories

9 Pinnacle Seniors Who Graduated From Wildfire Elementary Hold Graduation Signs

PVSchools Alumni Success Stories

Click on a former student's name below to read his or her story of success in PVSchools.

Do you have a positive story about your time at PVSchools that you'd like to share? If so, please share your success story with us!

Edward (Qianfu) Tang, Horizon High School, Class of 2017

Edward Tang - Horizon High School AlumnusIt's amazing how a person who was just a stranger suddenly means the world to you.

I went to Horizon High School for four whole years since I first arrived to the U.S. from China. It was the most wonderful 4 years in my life that I met the amazing people around me. They encouraged me while I [integrated] myself after I came to this new country, supported me while I was nervous, consoled me while I was sad, and congratulated me for my accomplishments. I have been trying to be one of them, too, and I am glad to say, they have changed me into a better person.

No matter wherever I wind up, I will never forget when I was surrounded by all those angels from the heaven.

Megan Jansen, Pinnacle High School, Class of 2016

Megan Jansen - Pinnacle High School AlumnaMegan Jansen, a Pinnacle High School alumna, was in the Paradise Valley Unified School District for seven years. She credits her physics teacher with making her more conscious and hardworking.

“Physics has taught me how to solve problems by seeing different perspectives and how to work better with others,” she says.

During her time at PVSchools, Megan took many Advanced Placement and Honor classes. It’s these classes she says that have prepared her well for the road ahead with college and beyond by enabling her to develop strong leadership, analytical and time management abilities. While Megan enjoyed Physics and History, she found her Spanish classes to be most inspiring, so much so that she decided to study abroad in three different countries.  She enjoyed the fact that after each trip, her teachers would incorporate what she learned in the classroom. Her membership in the Spanish Honors Society also provided her with opportunities to immerse herself further in the Spanish language.

Aside from academics, Megan also spent time enhancing her academic experience by participating in several extracurricular activities. Throughout her PV journey, Megan learned that there’s nothing she can’t do without determination. She held two internship positions, one at the North Phoenix Chamber of Commerce managing member relations and the other as the University of Texas-Arlington Research Institute, where she worked for six weeks as a full-time researcher in assistive robotics. In addition, she was also the founder and co-president of the diversity club on campus where she learned to explore and celebrate different customs and cultures and also worked for Broadreach as an ambassador. According to Megan, “Anyone is capable of succeeding if they put in hard work.”

Not surprisingly, her advice to incoming students is, “Be prepared to work hard; it will be very rewarding!”. She credits her successful journey of excellence with the large array of courses and extracurricular activities that both challenged and engaged her. According to Megan, “This makes it possible for anyone to pursue an academic and extracurricular path that is best suited for them.”

Megan was accepted to many Ivy League universities, and she also received full-tuition scholarships to attend Northeastern and the University of Southern California. She chose the University of Southern California and is planned to major in finance with a double minor in Computer Science and Spanish.

Katherine Leung, Paradise Valley High School, Class of 2016

Katherine Leung - Paradise Valley High School AlumnaWhile a senior at Paradise Valley High School with a 4.8 GPA, Katherine Leung credited her many amazing accomplishments on her ability to pursue her passions, challenge herself, and take advantage of the what she describes as “incredible opportunities” along her journey of excellence.

Despite her initial intimidation about entering high school, with the support of her parents, as well as many teachers and mentors along the way, Katherine was challenged and given the opportunity to explore her limits, define her path, and shape her future. During her time in high school, she was the National High School President of SkillsUSA – a 300,000 member organization from which she has won five gold and silver medals at the State and Regional levels. She was also a four-year member of National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, and Society of Women Scholars; a four-year member of the basketball team and varsity captain in her senior year; and a National Merit finalist. In addition, she earned a perfect score of 2400 on the SAT. She hopes to have a paper published through a local engineering firm for research she did on the benefits of changing the orientation of 3D-printed parts.

While Katherine’s path has been incredibly successful for her, she encourages others entering high school “to remember not to compare themselves to others, but rather do whatever they can to follow their dreams regardless if others don’t believe they can do it.” As Katherine puts it, “Each person has their own individual talents, and everyone is brilliant in their own way.”

She credits her personal success to the many teachers and administrators for their involvement with her education. “Without these people, much of my high school experience would not have been possible. Their support has allowed me to explore my interests and capabilities and prepare for college,” said Katherine. She attended Princeton University after graduating from PV High School.

Lauren O'Donnell, North Canyon High School, Class of 2016

Lauren ODonnell - North Canyon High School AlumnaAs a North Canyon High School alumna who was part of the Paradise Valley Unified School District for nine years, Lauren O’Donnell is no stranger to working hard and making the most of her educational experience. Aside from being in the International Baccalaureate programme and taking Advanced Placement classes for college credit, Lauren attributes her overall positive academic experience with her participation in many extracurricular activities, including marching band, jazz band and Varsity softball to name a few. According to Lauren, these activities enabled her to “learn a great deal about leadership and multitasking” and helped her grow strong bonds and friendships.

Lauren praises her favorite class, concert band, with giving her the opportunity to work together as part of of a team and really express her creativity. While she credits all of her teachers with having a positive influence along her educational journey, she praises her band director, Mr. Suehiro, with teaching her a lot about dedication, perseverance and work ethic. “He has helped me with important auditions for college and has given me plenty of advice on majoring in music in college and my next steps in life as a musician. He always takes time out of his busy schedule to stay after school to help his students,” she said.

As a member of North Canyon’s International Baccalaureate Programme from 7th to 12th grade, Lauren is confident that all of her hard work in this program prepared her for college life and beyond, and she isn’t alone. According to Lauren, "Several of her former North Canyon alumni also credit the program with helping to make their college years an easier transition from high school.” With the help of college credits she earned along the way through Advanced Placement courses, Lauren looked forward to having the opportunity to take more classes within her major early on in college.

During her educational journey at PVSchools, Lauren also successfully overcame her fear of public speaking. “It wasn’t until I started playing solos in band class that I really started to gain confidence when standing up in front of a group by myself,” she says. She quickly learned that the only way to conquer her fears was to face them head on, and Lauren did just that!  She took every opportunity to take every solo that was offered to her in band class and every audition for any ensemble she could. Through this process she learned that while “the fear of performing solo or speaking alone never entirely goes away, it does get a little less frightening each time you do it.” Her advice to future PV students is to, “Go out there and face your fears, because you’ll never know something is for you unless you try it and explore all of your options until you find your niche!” Lauren did just that when she played the Star-Spangled Banner at her gradation in May 2016.

She attributes her positive educational experience at PVSchools to the many teachers that “taught her more life lessons than any textbook alone ever could,” including invaluable lessons about discipline, perseverance and respect, to name a few. Lauren moved on to attend the University of Arizona and is planned on majoring in music education.

Ammar Yousif, Horizon High School, Class of 2016

Ammar Yousif - Horizon High School AlumnusAmmar Yousif was in the Paradise Valley Unified School District for five years prior to graduating from Horizon High School in May 2016. Like many of his peers, he graduated with excitement about the future. During his time in high school, Ammar took many classes to help him pursue his long-term dream of becoming an automotive manufacturing business owner, including Advancement Placement, Intro Engineering Design 1 and 2. He credits many of his teachers with having a positive impact on his educational journey and helping him achieve his goals, including his Engineering teacher, Mr. Cohen, for helping him understand bridges and gaps of automobiles, his Math teachers, Mr. Frank and Mrs. Strang, for helping him understand Math concepts and also his English teachers, Mrs. Abb and Ms. Prince, for helping him with his reading, writing and comprehension. 

Aside from his studies, Ammar made the most of his educational experience by creating an at-lunch basketball club whereby any student from Horizon could join to play. For three years, Ammar served as President of the club, and according to Ammar, “This experience has helped me make new friends and develop bonds with people of different ages and backgrounds.” During his high school experience, Ammar also learned about overcoming obstacles. He successfully made up nine credits by taking online classes for credits he had previously failed. During this process, he learned a lot about self-discipline.

His advice for incoming freshmen is to achieve their goals not only in school, but also in life. He also encourages students to participate in extracurricular activities, to have fun and meet other classmates. Ammar attributes PVSchools with helping him to successfully grow from being a freshman without a lot of knowledge to a man looking forward to graduation and beginning a career as a military solider and future engineer.

Jessie Duggan, Horizon High School, Class of 2015

Jessie Duggan - Horizon High School AlumnaAs a PV student for 12 years, Jessie Duggan is no stranger to the journey of excellence. As a senior at Horizon High School, she enjoyed her Government, Economics and AP Psychology classes the most. It was in these classes that she learned about how government works, how to manage money and she also learned a lot about herself. She credits her AP Psychology class with greatly influencing her decisions regarding her future career. In fact, she enjoyed this class so much that she decided to minor in Psychology.

Jessie acknowledges the multiple teachers she had during her journey with having had a positive impact throughout her time at PVSchools. Aside from helping to shape the person she is today, she also recognizes them for teaching her to respect others and to always adhere to the golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

During her time at Horizon, Jessie was also involved with extracurricular activities that help enhanced her learning experience. She was a freshman mentor, which provided her with the opportunity to highlight all of the wonderful things Horizon has to offer to incoming students. Additionally, she was also a member of the school site council and got to work with parents, teachers, other students, as well as Principal Ihnat on decisions affecting the school. Her advice to incoming freshman students is, “Treasure every moment and never take anything for granted.” She also feels it’s important to have fun, but, as she says it, “Put your studies first!”

Jessie praises PVSchools with prepping her for future success by providing her with “excellent teachers and experiences.” She looks forward to her future beyond PVSchools and where her career will take her.

Deja Lynch-Howell, North Canyon High School, Class of 2015

Deja Lynch Howell - North Canyon High School AlumnaFor Deja Lynch-Howell, who attended North Canyon High School, learning to overcome difficulties with time management was one of the feats she was able to conquer during her four years of high school. While at North Canyon, Deja gained fundamental skills as a student in the International Baccalaureate Programme that prepared her for college through challenging coursework that has forced her to use every part of her mind.

“I am grateful to have received such a profound education. I believe that my International Baccalaureate, English, theater, math and history classes have helped prepare me for college because the courses challenged me to do more than just regurgitate information, but to actually dig a little to find the underlying meaning of a topic,” said Deja.

As a student in the International Baccalaureate Programme, Daja learned time-management skills and became more comfortable with public speaking.

“The responsibility aspect impacted me the most because I was given the workload I had to learn how to manage my time wisely and work on prioritizing. These valuable skills will help me prepare for college when it comes to competing assignments on time,” she said.

Outside of the classroom, Deja was involved in basketball, volleyball, chess club, the National Honor Society, Red Cross, and the North Canyon High School Business Advisory. From these activities, she learned how to be a team player, made connections with local business owners, received invitations for internships, and learned the importance of giving back to the community.

The advice Deja wants to share with incoming freshmen is to use your time wisely and not to over-stress. She says, “I would encourage students to approach their teachers for help if they need assistance with understanding the topic better. I learned not to be afraid to ask for help.”

Deja was accepted into the Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University. She planned to major in business.

Alex Rossi, Paradise Valley High School, Class of 2015

Alex Rossi - Paradise Valley High School AlumnusAlex Rossi found success both in the classrooms and in the research lab at Barrow Neurological Institute while he was student in the Center for Research of Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST) program at Paradise Valley High School. Alex’s hard work and determination paid off when he was selected to present his research abstract on brain tumors to cancer scientists from around the world at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in 2015. These experiences prepared Alex for college and provided a core set of laboratory and research skills that reduced the learning curve in the lab at Barrow Neurological Institute.

Alex always had a passion for science and math, but a personal experience propelled him to not to waste his time waiting for his life to start. During this difficult time, he came to the realization that science held an immense capability to help every single person on the planet, and he wanted to be a part of that.

“To know that I could be part of the human quest for meaning and understanding not only drives me out of bed each morning, but it occasionally makes it hard to waste any of my time on sleep,” said Alex.

Alex’s motto has been that you should never be afraid of failure. “Successful people don’t always succeed more often than everyone else, but rather, they are more willing to take the risk of failure than others.”

Alex has placed a lot of emphasis on political and social involvement. He commonly writes or calls local state and national representatives to voice his opinion on a variety of political topics. He also enjoys photography as a way to explore a more creative aspect of himself.

Alex’s advice for students starting high school is don’t take things too seriously. When it seems your world is falling apart because your classes are too stressful and you’re in a fight with a friend, try to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Alex moved on to attend Arizona State University and was invited to be a writer for "Ask a Biologist" as a specialist in cancer genetics.

Maria Tafolla, Sweetwater Community School, Class of 2015

Maria Tafolla - Sweetwater Community School GraduateAs a former Sweetwater Community School student, Maria Tafolla was able to overcome many obstacles on her journey of excellence in PVSchools, including a significant language barrier, early academic and behavior issues, as well as personal and family challenges. Despite these overwhelming obstacles, Maria persevered and was determined to get on a path of success. Through her hard work and determination, she was able to form the school’s first yearbook club and take online and evening courses to graduate early in December 2015.

She is the youngest of her six siblings and the first in her family to graduate from high school, in spite of her friends and family telling her all along she was wasting her time and could never do it.

“The support and encouragement I needed came from the adults who pushed me to do better and graduate,” said Tafolla. Maria began classes at Paradise Valley Community College in 2016 to pursue a degree in criminal justice.

Sierra Theobald, Shadow Mountain High School, Class of 2015

Sierra Theobald, an alumna of Shadow Mountain High School, was a student in the Paradise Valley Unified School District for 12 years of her educational journey. During her high school experience, she developed a passion for writing. She attributes part of her passion and growth as a writer to her teacher, Mr. Kimsey, who not only challenged her, but also helped her grow.

Aside from academics, Sierra’s involvement in extracurricular activities had a positive impact on her overall education experience. As Sierra puts it, “Student Government added substantial value to my high school experience.” Her active involvement with Student Government enabled her to learn many invaluable real-world skills.

Her advice for incoming students is, “Find what it is you’re passionate about and throw yourself into it!” She was also active in Key Club and the National Honors Society.

According to Sierra, “PVSchools laid the foundation of who I am. The lessons I learned and skills I obtained through PVSchools has absolutely helped me on my journey to Arizona State University and will continue to aid me as I establish my journalism career.”

Sierra pursued her passion as a journalism major at Arizona State University.

Kristin Alba, Pinnacle High School, Class of 2012

PVSchools is not your typical school district, according to Kristin Alba. She says PVSchools goes above and beyond to make every student feel safe, cared for, and valued.

"PVSchools helped shape who I am today and I'm forever grateful," Kristin says.

Kristin went on to graduate from Northern Arizona University. She began teaching 2nd grade in PVSchools in the 2017/-8 school year.

"I have always wanted to be a 2nd-grade teacher because of the amazing experience I had in 2nd grade at Desert Trails," Kristin says. "During my time at Pinnacle I was a part of Teacher Academy, which really showed me that teaching was my passion. Through Teacher Academy, I got to intern at Wildfire Elementary my junior and senior year; now I will be teaching there! Everything has come full circle and I am so thankful for PVSchools."

Michael Cartolano, Tom D'Ambrosio, and Kyle Hollenbeck, Shadow Mountain High School, Class of 2006


While still high school students at Shadow Mountain High School, Kyle Hollenbeck, Michael Cartolano and Tom D'Ambrosio dreamed that one day they would be able to open a restaurant of their own.

After graduating from Shadow Mountain High School in 2006, they each pursued different degrees with their goal in mind. With any successful business, the key ingredients are having different skill sets and expertise in order to make the endeavor prosper.

Their dream became a reality when the trio launched their food truck business, Aioli Gourmet Burgers, in January 2014. By June of the same year, they started offering catering and began booking public and private events. Hard work and determination helped their business expand even further, as they eventually opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the 32nd and Shea neighborhood – right next to Shadow Mountain.

Read more about their successful business venture.