Lucas Warwick and Caitlin Mullin have been selected as recipients of the Exchange Club of Scotts Valley’s ACE Award—the first time the group has given the honor to more than one person. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

One was a girl who suffered from anxiety and fell behind academically, the other was a mechanically-inclined guy who couldn’t bring himself to do homework and ended up with failing grades. Both managed to turn things around in-class through senior year, while growing leaps and bounds in their personal lives.

And now, Caitlin Mullin and Lucas Warwick have been selected as recipients of the Exchange Club of Scotts Valley’s ACE Award—the first time the group has given the honor to more than one person.

“This award allows us to recognize individuals who have overcome challenges,” explained Victor Alejandro, president of the Exchange Club. “This special recognition serves as a powerful example to all students that hard work and perseverance really does pay.”

Mullin, 17, has been living in Scotts Valley since she was a baby. She attended Brook Knoll Elementary and went to Scotts Valley Middle School, where she was already struggling with lessons.

“I was socially happy, just academically not,” she said. “I have anxiety and I had a really hard time focusing and getting work done—and getting homework turned in. It all just kind of piled up and affected my grades a lot.”

This compounded things by affecting her mental health. The whole situation got even worse when the coronavirus showed up and students were sent home to be educated virtually.

“I couldn’t be with my teachers in person,” Mullin said. “I needed someone right there helping me if I needed help. And it was hard to do that over a Zoom call. I lacked motivation.”

Her obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety just got worse during the pandemic.

“I didn’t leave the house for like a year,” she said. “I was just so anxious about giving Covid to other people. It wasn’t really about me getting sick.”

Mullin says her shift toward a healthier direction had a lot to do with the guidance of Christine Danner, her high school counselor.

“It was like she understood everyone at the school—every kid—what we were going through,” she said. “I feel like she was very there for me.”

In fact, Mullin says she doesn’t know if she would have made the improvements she did without Danner, who is now an assistant principal at Scotts Valley High School.

“I was in her office every morning crying or just talking to her about everything going on in my life,” she said. “She was always just there to listen.”

Warwick, 18, was born in Santa Cruz County but was living in Paradise. His family returned to the area when his grandpa got cancer. He caught rides to Scotts Valley Middle School with his Ben Lomond neighbor, who taught at the school.

“I liked learning, but I didn’t like homework, per se,” he said. “In middle school, I failed almost everything.”

He was too caught up with educating himself about other pursuits, like mechanics and construction.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been building cars,” Warwick said, opening his palms to reveal the surrounding scar tissue. “I mean, look at my hands.”

He’s a huge fan of muscle cars from the 1970s and diesel trucks made by Dodge, but when it came to online school—not so much.

“I just didn’t have the help I needed,” Warwick said. “Also, there was no one to monitor me to do it, really.”

He started buckling down in sophomore year, and continued to make solid strides in the classroom as a senior.

Both Mullin and Warwick, who are friends, credit their time together at the high school’s alternative education track, called K Street Academy.

“K Street honestly changed my life,” Warwick said. “It was definitely a crazy experience, you could say.”

Mullin says the program helped build her emotional intelligence.

“I’m very aware of my brain, I guess. And K Street really helped me,” she said. “I was actually able to understand the material. The class is a bit smaller and the teachers are able to be more one-on-one with you. It just helps to have the connections to the teacher. And all the teachers there choose to be in K Street.”

But their time at SVHS was rocked by tragedy, including the death of Mullin’s cousin, Will Blackburn, in 2020, and Carlton Keegan, a fellow K Streeter, last year.

“It changed K Street forever,” Mullin said of the news Keegan had died in a car accident. “It wasn’t the same after that.”

She was touched to see the banner that was spread anonymously above Highway 17 from an overpass, recently, to memorialize Keegan. No one seems to know who put it up, she added.

One of their assignments was to build a patio deck on school property, and they dedicated it to their former classmate. They say their K Street cohort will forever be bonded by trauma.

As part of winning the ACE Award, both students received $500.

“You’ve been identified as someone who’s overcome whatever challenges you experienced,” Alejandro said. “You should be really proud of yourselves.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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