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'It just seems to never go away': 7 Chandler teachers gifted scholarships to pay off student debt

Through her "Basha Gives Back" service project, student Jadyn Ocampo awarded seven teachers scholarships to help pay off their student loans.

With balloons in hand and a check the size of half a poster board, Jadyn Ocampo walked with her mother up to Chandler Traditional Academy- Independence Campus Friday morning.

Entering the school, the principal greeted the pair, leading them back into a specific classroom.

A quick knock on the door and students cheered for P.E. teacher Hunter Wilkes.

“I’m so happy to tell you, you are a recipient of the Al and Lori Ocampo Scholarship,” Ocampo said presenting the large check and balloons to Wilkes.

Another round of cheers could be heard as Wilkes wiped away a few tears. 

“I’m so blown away, thank you so much,” Wilkes said.

It was Jadyn Ocampo’s second stop of the day delivering checks and balloons to teachers in the Chandler Unified School District.

It’s part of her “Basha Gives Back” senior service project. Jadyn, a Basha High School student, worked with her mother, Sara Ocampo, to come up with the idea of helping teachers pay off some of their student loans.

The scholarship is named after Jadyn’s grandparents, who have both worked in schools for years.

RELATED: ‘I knew these were the people I wanted to help’: High school senior helping Chandler teachers with student loan debt

Jadyn’s original goal was to award one teacher $1,000.

“Every time someone donated I was like, ‘Okay, I can help another person,’” Jadyn Ocampo said.

She ended up raising more than $4,300, allowing her to gift three $1,000 scholarships and four $300 scholarships.

Wilkes said she has been teaching at CTA -Independence for three years. Wilkes told Jadyn in her application how she had to stay an extra year at her out-of-state college to train more in hopes of making the Olympic pole vaulting team. 

She missed qualifying for the team previously by one inch. Ultimately, it was an injury that meant Wilkes couldn’t try again.

Wilkes said she has two outstanding loans from her schooling.

“I’ve been expecting to pay off one loan,” Wilkes said. “But it just seems like no matter how much I put towards it, you just feel like you’re giving so much of your paycheck away and I just can’t wait to be free.”

'It just seems to never go away'

Over at San Marcos Elementary, Jadyn surprised fourth-grade teacher Anna Zepeda.

“I want students to continue to learn from you, so this is hopefully going to help you do that,” Jadyn said.

Zepeda said she went back to school after having a family. Zepeda said her ex-husband had died, leaving her a single mom needing a way to support her family with a similar schedule to her school-age children.

“It made me be able to be there for my kids and it gave me a career and income to take care of my family,” Zepeda said. “So I believe in what I do because I know it can change people’s lives.”

Zepeda was awarded one of the $300 scholarships, which she said would be spent well.

“I believe in helping my students here that I see every single day and doing my best for them,” Zepeda said.

Over at Santan Junior High, Jadyn surprised English teacher Andrew Pezzuto with a $300 scholarship.

Pezzuto said he changed his major his senior year of college to education after he saw his mom struggle to help his younger brother, who was later diagnosed with a learning disability. 

“I’ve been paying it since I graduated,” Pezzuto said of his student loan. “It just seems to never go away.”

Pezzuto said the money will be used to help free up some space, as another little baby boy will be joining his family soon.

“It’ll allow me to purchase some upcoming stuff, we’re having a new baby in March,” Pezzuto said.

'I want to represent my traditions'

In the final stop of the morning, Jadyn went to second-year teacher Yolanda Jones’ classroom at Navarrete Elementary.

“After I’m done here, I go home and I get ready and then I head to my second job where I don’t get off until usually around 11,” Jones said. “Tomorrow I have to get up early so I can finish writing my paper for my other class and then go to work again in the evening.”

Jones, who’s from the Navajo Nation, said she’s wanted to be a teacher since sixth grade. Now she’s pursing another degree in hopes of becoming a principal one day.

“I want to represent my traditions and my people in the best way possible,” Jones said.

Jadyn said she's going to leave her fundraising platform up in hopes of awarding more of the 34 teachers who applied. If you want to assist Jadyn in helping more Chandler teachers, you can donate here

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