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August Knodt School fifth graders art work appears in 2013 Valley Air calendar
Annel Mercados art appears along with September in the calendar. - photo by Courtesy Valley Air Pollution Control District

WESTON RANCH – Annel Mercado just found out what it’s like to be famous.

People have been asking for her autograph since her poster art was selected as one of the 15 featured in the 2013 Healthy Living Kids’ Calendar published by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The fifth-grade student at August Knodt Elementary School in Weston Ranch is the September calendar girl.

Her drawing shows a young girl in summer active wear kicking a soccer ball on the grass with a row of trees, mountains and a lone flowering plant as backdrop. The Healthy Air Living bilingual slogan she incorporated into her crayon drawing reads: “Less cars, more feet. Menos carros, mas pies.”

The 15 young artists featured in the 2013 calendar were chosen from hundreds of K-12 students in the eight-county jurisdiction of the Valley Air Pollution Control District who submitted entries. Annel is one of only three from San Joaquin County, all of them from the Manteca Unified School District. However, that is not obvious in the calendar information that accompanies her art work and photograph which simply identifies her as a Stockton fifth-grade student artist.

There’s a simple explanation for that. While Weston Ranch, a former unincorporated area of French Camp, became part of the incorporated City of Stockton when this once-thriving agricultural community was developed into the residential community that it is today, it was not detached from the Manteca Unified School District’s jurisdiction. Hence, August Knodt and the other two elementary schools in Weston Ranch – Great Valley and George Komure – plus Weston Ranch High School and the New Vision community school are all part of Manteca Unified.

The other two students whose original art creations were selected for the 2013 calendar are Phoebe Southimath, a seventh grader at Lathrop Elementary School and the January calendar girl, and Nikolle Sanchis who is in sixth grade at Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary in Lathrop who is the calendar girl for the month of October.

District spokesman Anthony Presto said 20,000 copies of the free calendar have been printed and are being distributed to schools, community groups, healthcare facilities, churches, civic organizations, and non-profit groups throughout the eight counties of the Valley Air District.

Janet Cabezut, the August Knodt teacher who was instrumental in her students’ involvement in the art project, said Presto personally delivered and presented copies of the 2013 calendar to her students.

“He talked about how great a picture (Annel) did and how everybody did a good job. Everybody got a calendar and he gave me a blanket to keep me warm,” said Cabezut who teaches a combination fourth- and fifth-grade class at August Knodt.

She said she gave the blanket to Annel “because she did all the work.”

Everybody wanted to have the young artist autograph their copies of the calendar, “so she was our star for the day,” said Cabezut, who has only praises for the young artist.

“She’s an awesome student. Nobody would deserve (the honor) more than her. She’s a very good artist and a very good student. It makes me so proud of her. And she’s always one to help other kids. She’s just a super sweet kid.”

Cabezut said she always tries to get her students involved in the calendar project every year and have them send an entry.

“What they (the district) do is they allow the children to submit any of their pictures about clean air and recycling. They want them to come up with original ideas,” she said.

The calendar is actually just one of a number of things that Cabezut encourages her students to do as an extracurricular project.

“I try to get them involved in all kinds of project. I think it’s important that they become part of the community and be good citizens,” she said.

By getting involved in the community, they become better students, too, Cabezut said.