PICTURED: Phoenix Ranch School co-valedictorian Jaeden Pugh. (Photo submitted)

by Alicia Doyle


Eighth graders Wren Chin and Jaeden Pugh are making history as the first and only co-valedictorians at Phoenix Ranch School, a private school in Simi Valley, during this historic time of uncertainty.

During the 11 weeks of distance learning, Chin and Pugh regularly attended classes and completed all assignments with significant details and accuracy, said Catherine Grimes, principal of Phoenix’s West Campus.

“This demonstrated an exceptional commitment to their classes and diligence to keep their 4.0 GPA,” said Grimes, of Moorpark. 

Both students have been positive role models for many years, Grimes noted, “including our time away from campus.”  

Chin, 14, said her goal was not to be valedictorian, “but just do well in school.” Nevertheless, “I am honored to be chosen.”

Wren Chin, Phoenix Ranch School co-valedictorian.

“I just tried to keep my grades up and try to do my best,” said the Simi Valley teen, who heads to Santa Susana High School in the fall. When the pandemic forced the closure of schools throughout Ventura County, “it felt like there was more work, as we had digital projects rather than in-class paperwork.” It was also more difficult not having a regular schedule each day, with only virtual meetings with teachers. “It was up to me to set my own pace and make sure I got the work done. I had to motivate myself.”

For Pugh, 13, graduating as valedictorian “is an honor.” 

“I feel great, especially because I know all my years of hard work have paid off,” said Pugh, also of Simi Valley. “I feel proud because this is also an accomplishment that not many others achieve.”

He noted that his grandmother, who died when he was in the seventh grade, fueled his inspiration to do well in his eighth-grade year.

“I was very close with her and it was hard to take in the loss,” Pugh said, “but I stayed focused and finished strong for her.” 

 When his school closed because of the pandemic, “it was not a big change for me,” he noted. While it was harder to keep in touch with teachers, “It was easier to manage assignments. I had a schedule of every class daily to make sure I did all my work and attended all of my meetings.” Come fall, Pugh will attend Sierra Canyon High School in the San Fernando Valley. 

Looking back on the last few months, Pugh believes the challenging circumstances have only further prepared him for future endeavors.

“This experience will definitely help me become stronger and more resilient…because it allowed me to learn new skills and allowed me to get better at certain things like studying,” Pugh explained. “It taught me that I can adapt and adjust quickly to change to meet my goals.”

Phoenix Ranch School’s eighth-grade graduation took place June 2 with a drive-through ceremony, where graduates were greeted by a line of teachers and staff.  

“It is my great pleasure to see students such as Jaeden and Wren start with us in preschool and continue through middle school,” Grimes said.