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Riley Simmons earns honor for school success
Riley Simmons beams after being selected as a recipient of a regional award for succeeding in school despite her brain cancer surgery and recovery while at Colony Oak School in Ripon. - photo by Photo Contributed

Riley Simmons was standing tall as she received the “Every Student Succeeding Award” from the Association of California School Administrators’ San Joaquin Chapter.

Simmons is an 11-year-old student at Colony Oak School who has kept up with her peers while battling brain cancer, radiation and chemotherapy treatments and their effects.

She was presented the honor during breakfast in the Manteca Unified School District board room last week.

Simmons has shown sheer determination in her battle to beat her brain cancer. She has spent much of the last two years in a Bay Area hospital away from home and school.

She was supported by a team of professionals as well as her parents, grandparents, tutors and other educators who traveled to Stanford University Hospital.

Simmons first returned to school on a part-time basis and now is at near full-time status. 

In the early weeks of her illness, a standing room only crowd filled Ripon’s Canal Street Grill to show their support in a gigantic fundraiser. Manteca’s youth soccer league raised more than $10,000 to support her recovery. Manteca’s girls’ soccer team also conducted fundraisers as did Colony Oaks teachers.

The goal was to raise enough money to allow her dad to take a year’s leave from his job to stay home with her and her mom in the hospital.

The evening before the first day of school last August, parents and students lined up outside the school office to see which classroom they had been assigned and to learn who would be their teachers. The reaction to seeing Simmons’ name posted on the office windows to a sixth grade class brought tears and cheers.

Simmons continued her series of chemo treatments in the early part of 2014. By spring she was found more at school than studying at home as the fear of being sickened by her fellow students with colds had lessened. 

Insuring that she stays on a sixth grade level with her classmates, her teacher and tutors alike continue to meet together on a weekly basis. 

Before her diagnosis with cancer, Simmons was a competitive soccer league athlete. She dreams of playing soccer once again when doctors say she is ready. Her Occupational Therapist and Adaptive physical education teacher at school are working with her toward that goal.

Those who have been working with her have noted her motivation, desire and sheer will to excite, motivate and challenge others.

Last October Riley was a class finalist in the school’s Spelling Bee and competed on stage in front of other students. 

“Riley’s story has brought her some unexpected and probably unwanted fame. I do not think that she understands the affect she has on people – students and adults alike. Her smile is contagious, her name is synonymous with strength, her story inspires. She is without a doubt a student that has overcome adversity while continuing to break down barriers in her path. She is ‘Riley’ and we are honored to know her,” one school staffer noted in her for the award.

“We had a chance to celebrate students from across the county that in spite of their adverse situations, they are continuing to succeed academically,” Colony Oak Principal Ziggy Robeson said. “From Colony Oak and Ripon Unified we honored Riley Simmons. It really was a privilege and a pleasure to be part of such a remarkable young lady’s life.”