They’re awarded face to face, hand to hand, but NUSD Board President Lisa Kaplan’s  scholarships come from the heart.

Each of the past four years, Kaplan has purchased Chromebook computers and given them to high school students who can’t afford a laptop and are tenacious in the face of adversity: They never give up and have overcome challenges to succeed in school and life.

Kaplan’s Chromebooks went this year to five students who have faced challenges ranging from dyslexia to poverty to chronic illness: Carlos Lavalle and Sheila Hernandez of Inderkum High, Faatimah Iqbal and Aisha Aslam of Natomas High, and Rodrigo Guerrero of Discovery High.

Kaplan presented the Chromebooks to each student individually April 20, surprising them by showing up at their school. Her message was that she was proud of them, they’re strong, they’ve persevered, and they’re winners, they’ll be successful.

Kaplan gave each winner a business card containing her private cellphone number and email address. If you ever need me, she told them, I’ll be there for you.

Sheila said that winning the scholarship “opened my eyes a lot more to see what things I can accomplish.”

“I prayed and prayed – and I’m excited,” she said of her new Chromebook.

Aisha was stunned to win Kaplan’s “Closing the Digital Divide” competition.

“I was in shock at first,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d win because a lot of people applied. But yeah, I’m pretty excited. I didn’t have a laptop and now I finally have one.”

Aisha wants to be a pediatric psychiatrist someday. Faatimah’s goal is to be a doctor or lawyer. Sheila wants to be an art teacher. Carlos and Rodrigo are undecided.

Kaplan’s husband, B.G. Heiland, pitched in this year for the Chromebooks. Applicants had to have a minimum 2.5 grade point average and were evaluated on the basis of financial need, academic performance, leadership potential, and courage in overcoming adversity. The scholarship program is operated through the Natomas Schools Foundation.

Kaplan, an attorney, sees a lot of herself in these kids – great potential, modest means. Her parents were not college educated, were not wealthy, and she worked her way through college, both as an undergraduate and at law school. She learned the value of hard work and the vital role computers play in a 21st century education, which prompted her to award Chromebooks via her scholarship.

“Many of our kids in Natomas come from difficult backgrounds,” she said. “They have continued to put education as a priority, yet they may not have the ability to buy a Chromebook, a laptop, which is so needed these days for success in college. So this is easy for my husband and I to do.”

Kaplan knows that it would be impossible to help every deserving student, but reaching out gives her great pleasure. She recalls words of wisdom she once read about making a difference in one life, one day at a time.

But the scholarship program is not about her, it’s about the kids, she said. “There are no words to describe seeing the look in their eyes when they realize that, wow, I applied and I got this – and somebody believes in me,” Kaplan said, smiling.

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