“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” - Albert Einstein.

This was Carolyn Gallella’s answer when asked for her favorite quote, a quote that aptly describes her approach to school and life. Carolyn has attended Valley Oaks Charter School since kindergarten for 13 years. A true renaissance woman, Carolyn loves science, art, music and writing. In high school, Carolyn often sets the bar in academic classes. Although her personality is quiet and reserved, Carolyn enjoyed intellectual debates with classmates and was known to sway the opinions of her peers.

Carolyn also has a talent for the arts. She has taken college art courses and won the Tehachapi Valley Art Association's contest several times. Carolyn won Best in Show in 2015 and 2018, as well as 1st Place in 2016. Carolyn also sung in the high school choir and Kern County Honor Choir for four years. Additionally, she was a soloist singer at the Valley Oaks annual Elegant Evening of the Arts. Carolyn also took tap dance class at J & M dance.

Even with challenging AP and college classes, Carolyn still managed to participate in numerous extracurricular activities. She was involved in ASB, Rickroller Robotics, Interact Club, Yearbook, and founded a Writers’ Club at Valley Oaks. In addition, Carolyn has been in Girl Scouts since fourth grade and has earned the Silver Award. An inspirational figure for Carolyn is a fellow Girl Scout Cathy Ferguson, a former Olympic swimmer who recently retired as CEO of the Girl Scout Council in Kern County. Carolyn is inspired by Ferguson’s compassion for others and zest for life. Carolyn has a similar zest for life and like Ferguson, she accomplishes what she sets her mind to.

For her Senior Seminar project, Carolyn completed an analysis on neurodiversity, promoting a more inclusive school environment for neuro-diversified learners. Neurodiversity considers neurological conditions like autism and ADHD that are the result of natural variation in the human genome. While these conditions have been traditionally pathologized, Carolyn considered how they may be seen from a strengths-based perspective. Her project represents an important paradigm shift as we learn that people with neurological differences may have unique perspectives and talents that can help us solve challenging societal problems. Carolyn has also started an awareness campaign for Tourette’s syndrome, working with Tourette’s community to reduce stigma around this condition.

After high school, Carolyn plans to take a year off of her college plans while she pursues her goal of publishing the novel that she completed over winter break. She also plans to write part two in the series over the next year. Her “gap year” goals also include plans to do a service trip abroad for several months. Upon her return, Carolyn plans on attending college to major in biopsychology and minor in art. Combining her passion for both science and people, Carolyn hopes to become a therapist so that she can help people overcome personal challenges and reach their full potential.

Nena Thornburg is a Valley Oaks science teacher and high school advisor.