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Two La Jolla students among San Diego County’s ‘Most Remarkable Teens’

La Jolla students Jasmine Matthews (left) of The Preuss School and Renee Wang of The Bishop's School
La Jolla students Jasmine Matthews (left) of The Preuss School and Renee Wang of The Bishop’s School have been recognized as among San Diego County’s “25 Most Remarkable Teens.”
(Provided by The Preuss School and Renee Wang)

Jasmine Matthews and Renee Wang both have taken on homelessness, but in different ways.

Two students at different La Jolla schools have much in common: Both were honored this week as among the “25 Most Remarkable Teens” in San Diego County for tackling homelessness — though in different ways.

County Public Defender Randy Mize and the San Diego County Public Defender Youth Council selected the 25 winners for their contributions and accomplishments in 25 categories, including environmental advocacy, arts and culture, technology, civic involvement, entrepreneurship and courage to overcome adversity.

The winners were recognized Nov. 10 at a ceremony at the San Diego Central Library attended by Mize and other area officials. Here’s a look at La Jolla’s honorees:

Jasmine Matthews

Jasmine, 17, is a senior at The Preuss School, a charter middle and high school on the UC San Diego campus that serves students from low-income households who strive to be the first in their families to graduate from college.

Jasmine earned her place on the “25 Most Remarkable Teens” list for perseverance. She achieved academic success as a junior last year while homeless, earning awards in pre-calculus, English and history, a spot on the honor roll and school distinction for pushing through her circumstances.

Jasmine and her mother found themselves without a place to live after their landlord sold their apartment last year.

They stayed with extended family, but “going through that experience where you’re not in your own house ... [was] worrisome,” she said. “But at the same time, I really tried not to worry about that since it’s something I really can’t control.”

Jasmine and her mother are now living in Mission Bay.

During the time she was homeless, Jasmine’s “main focus was just remembering where I wanted to be in the future,” she said. “I just tried to focus on what I can actually control, which is basically school and [doing] the best that I could.”

Jasmine hopes to get into UCLA and become a filmmaker.

On being honored as a Remarkable Teen, “I’m grateful,” she said, though “I kind of feel like I have impostor syndrome” — the feeling of not belonging despite one’s proven skill.

“There’s so many different ways that [homelessness] can look like,” she said. “When people hear the word ‘homeless,’ they think of the worst-case scenario: Either you’re on the street downtown or you’re in a shelter and you don’t have access to showers or anything.”

Her experience, she said, “wasn’t the worst-case scenario. … I was staying with extended family, I did have a place to sleep, I still had food to eat.”

Renee Wang

Renee, 15, is a junior at The Bishop’s School, a private middle and high school in La Jolla’s Village. She has never experienced homelessness but said she was compelled by the local rise in homelessness to invent Rubix, “a tiny home that is designed … to provide like an alternative sheltering solution.”

For her project, Renee was chosen as a Remarkable Teen for innovation.

Rubix is a 3-by-3-meter (roughly 10-by-10-foot) cube in a modular design that can break apart for easy transport, Renee said. It includes 10 prefabricated interlocking components, runs on solar power and is made of recycled materials.

“I’ve been passionate about architecture my entire life,” she said.

After seeing the “brutal reality of homelessness, especially in San Diego,” Renee “really wanted to merge [architecture and] community service and my passions with … advocacy,” she said.

Renee now is “in the process of prototyping and getting a full-size model” of Rubix, she said. “I’m really excited to … see Rubix become a reality.”

When she was younger, she said, she believed architecture was only “skyscrapers and luxury.” But in hearing “a lot of the stories about perseverance and being able to interact with my own community, [I realized] design is more about being able to serve and being able to provide … a better life for everyone in my community.” ◆