Crystina Martinez. (CS photo by Rafael Crisostomo)
Crystina Martinez. (CS photo by Rafael Crisostomo)
In some ways Crystina Martinez from Sacred Heart School in Washington is just like other eighth graders. She plays soccer and performs in her school's talent show. In other ways, however, she stands out. She laughs when someone draws on a picture of her and she is a recipient of the Paula Nowakowski Scholarship.

"She's one of those students teachers always remember," said Kristen Kullberg, Crystina's homeroom and Language Arts teacher.

As her time at Sacred Heart nears its end - the 14 eighth-graders will graduate on June 7 - Crystina is filled with gratitude for everything the school has provided for her, particularly affirmation of her Catholic faith.

"I strongly believe in my faith," she said. "I can see how people have drifted from their faith, especially in our generation. Being in a Catholic school, going to church every Friday, reassures that I'm with God at all times, and He's always going to be there with me, especially in high school when it gets hard."

Crystina said she also learned never to take her Catholic education for granted, especially when it could have been taken from her. Due to financial reasons, Crystina's family wasn't sure if Crystina would be able to attend her dream high school, Georgetown Visitation, or even have Crystina and her siblings remain at Sacred Heart. However, thanks to the Nowakowski Scholarship and other rewards, the family stayed at Sacred Heart and Crystina is preparing for her freshman year at Visitation in the fall.

"I've been given so many opportunities that I can never thank anyone enough," Crystina said.

Part of what Crystina loves so much about Sacred Heart School and also sees at Visitation is the family-like environment. Crystina's mom, Jessica Martinez, works in a public school and knows how much of a difference a Catholic education can make.

"We can't talk about anything that has to do with religion, and I see that's a huge fact they're missing in creating well-rounded citizens who respect one another and respect themselves," Jessica said.

While college is still a few years away, Crystina said she plans on studying law because she "really likes debating and fighting for other people." While at Sacred Heart, a bilingual school, Crystina said she was able to stay connected to her cultural heritage and she plans to continue to study Spanish in high school.

Crystina also became a leader this year in the school by participating in the Student Council, which organized fundraisers, dances and movie nights. When the voting between Crystina and a classmate looked like it might end in a tie, the two students agreed to share responsibility for the role.

"We have two presidents this year, which is unprecedented," Kullberg said. "I think this [decision] not only speaks to the nature of the school, but also speaks to the nature of Crystina."

Math teacher Elise Heil, who has taught Crystina for three years, also spoke highly of Crystina, especially her ability to bring out the best not only from her fellow students but also from her teachers.

"As a teacher, I often come into school and say 'I need coffee,' but then you have students like Crystina who are positive and optimistic," she said. "If she can be positive and optimistic, I need to step up my game."