From Puerto Rico with pride: Bilingual student of the year eyes potential restaurant ownership

Published 12:14 am Saturday, April 1, 2017

LAPLACE — At first, Norshelys Lopez thought she was in trouble.

The tiny 12-year-old fifth grader at East St. John Elementary School had been called into the principal’s office along with a couple of her friends and she wasn’t sure why.

“I was nervous because I thought we might have gotten into trouble for something,” she said.

Instead, Norshelys and her friends were told they had been nominated for St. John the Baptist Parish fifth grade Student of the Year.

A few weeks later, principal Stacy Bradford made her cry when he told the youngster she had won the honor.

“My friends had to calm me down,” she said.

That was nothing compared to her parents’ reaction, however.

“When I told my mom, she started freaking out,” said Norshelys, the daughter of Yaitza De Loen and Jose Lopez. “She wanted to run all over and tell people. They really are proud of me. I don’t think they ever expected something so huge from me.”

Norshelys Lopez said she loves math so much that she even enjoys watching internet videos that show her how to work problems and formulas.

Norshelys probably didn’t expect it either. In her portfolio, which every nominee must submit to a panel of judges, she told the story of how she was born in Florida and grew up in Puerto Rico.

She and her parents and two brothers moved to St. John a few years ago to be near relatives.

Norshelys loves and misses Puerto Rico, though. Her project on the island won her third place in the geography division in this year’s district social studies fair.

“Puerto Rico is an amazing place,” she said. “I love the people, especially the little food places they have there. My grandpa has a goat farm in his back yard and he has a lot of avocados growing. Every time we go over I’m mostly there in the garden trying to get some avocados to eat. I used to not like them, but now I only like my grandpa’s avocados. They have a sweetness to them that others don’t have.”

The avocado aficionado also loves to cook and thinks she might like to open a Puerto Rican restaurant someday.

“I would like to spread Puerto Rican food around because there’s not a lot of it around here,” she said.

For now, she enjoys telling her classmates about Puerto Rico, both in Spanish and in English.

Bradford said Norshelys demonstrates a positive attitude when working with teachers and classmates.

“She possesses strong leadership skills, a winning attitude and believes in setting high standards for herself and others,” he said. “Because of her drive to succeed, proven abilities and impressive academic achievements, Norshelys was chosen for Student of the Year for St. John the Baptist Parish. This young lady is simply amazing.”

Norshelys said she loves math and even enjoys watching internet videos, which show her how to work problems and formulas. She also loves to read and often borrows books from her teachers.

“Because my parents are working all the time I don’t get to go to the library as much,” she said. “We have a big bookshelf in our house and I’m always asking my teachers if I can borrow their books.”

She also loves to dress up. On this particular dress-down day at her school, Norshelys was wearing flowers in her hair to match those of the cat depicted on her T-shirt.

“Every Friday we get rewarded if we are good the week before,” she said. “Not a lot of people get to do this. To me, I think it motivates kids to go to school and try to be better and try harder.”