EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange STEM Academy valedictorian Frantzeska Barron is headed to Princeton University next year on a full academic scholarship, but she made a detour this year, on her way to the Ivy League, to serve as guest speaker at the Edward T. Bowser Elementary School’s fifth-grade graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 20.
For fifth-grade graduate Natalia Woody, 10, and her mother, Barron’s participation in the graduation helped make the occasion special.
“It feels nice to graduate. I’m confident that I’m going to do really great in the sixth grade,” said Natalia on Wednesday, June 20. “I love science. I want to be a doctor because I want to help people. I know that means, at least 12 more years of school, but I’m ready for that. Believe, achieve and succeed.”
Natalia’s mother said she’s ready to support her daughter’s dream to become a doctor, even it takes several more years of schooling, and added that the graduation ceremony was great, thanks in part to Barron.
“I’m proud and excited that she graduated. The graduation ceremony was pretty cool, thanks to the guest speaker,” she said.
Bowser School Assistant Principal Beth Kelly agreed, saying she had invited Barron to speak at her elementary school alma mater.
“Today, we had our fifth-grade graduation and we were blessed to have, as our keynote speaker, Frantzeska Baron, who came to the Bowser School at the age of 3. She’ll be graduating STEM Academy on Monday, June 25. She was their valedictorian for the year. She was our valedictorian when she was here and she’s just received a full academic scholarship to Princeton University,” said Kelly on Wednesday, June 20. “She is a public school student, but she was so dynamic. But she was not the only dynamic student that we’ve had or that we have. There’s so much potential right here in East Orange. So we’re looking forward to watching many more of our students rise, as Frantzeska did.”
With that in mind, Kelly and the Bowser School faculty featured two current students, first-grader Isaiah Carrington and kindergartner Lee Anna Rose-Watts, at the kindergarten graduation ceremony at the school on Thursday, June 21. Isaiah was chosen to serve as the keynote speaker at the kindergarten graduation ceremony; he sang a duet of the song “A Million Dreams” with Lee Anna, who has spina bifida, to close out the event.
“In today’s world, we all need role models. We need to see that there’s success stories out there,” said Kelly. “We try to put as many success stories as we can in front of our students. We try to put as many role models as we can in front of our students.”
Barron said coming back to Bowser School to speak felt natural.
“My success story started here at Bowser at age 3, and I graduated here, fifth grade, then I went to Sojourner Truth Middle School, I graduated eighth grade and I’m graduating a senior at STEM Academy. For each graduation, I graduated at the top of my class and I’m going to Princeton University on a full scholarship. I got a great education. I will say that,” said Barron on Wednesday, June 20. “Me being here was basically to inspire and motivate all the children to let them know that, just because they’re from East Orange, doesn’t mean that they can’t rise to success, doesn’t mean that they can’t surpass many obstacles to get there and things like that.”
Barron also had some advice for the Bowser School fifth-grade graduates.
“Work hard, focus on yourself and just have fun,” she said. “Have fun, kids.”
Isaiah and Lee Anna seemed to embody Barron’s sentiments.
“I sang ‘A Million Dreams’ and it was good,” said Lee Anna on Thursday, June 21. “I wasn’t scared to get up on stage and sing in front of everybody, because I’m a performer.”
Her mother, Crystal Rose, agreed that Lee Anna is a natural-born performer in spite of her physical challenges.
“Yes, she is a performer,” said Rose at the kindergarten graduation. “She wants to do YouTube, so we’ve got to start the channel real soon. She’s going to be here at this school, until she can’t be here anymore. The teachers are wonderful and they take care of the special needs. Miss Heath, the principal, Miss Kelly; you guys are so good. You guys are doing such an excellent job with my daughter and every other child in here.”
Kelly thanked Rose and said it was much appreciated, though everyone at Bowser School does what they do because they believe in their students’ potential, just like they believed in Barron when she was a student there.
“Frantzeska was here since preschool. We’ve had her since she was 3 years old. Isaiah came to us last year in kindergarten, but he’s just dynamic,’ Kelly said. “But we have almost 700 students here and there is something dynamic about every child that we have here. There’s something dynamic about every child, but it’s our job as educators to pull out the best in them. Isaiah didn’t know that he was a singer. Frantzeska didn’t know that she was going to go to Princeton. It’s our job to work with them and pull out the best in them. They all have gifts and talents, but someone has to nurture that.”
“They’re all filled with greatness; it just has to be pulled out of them.”