Every Student Succeeding: Mr. Positivity

ACSA’s Every Student Succeeding Awards program turns 20 this year. In recognition, we begin a 21-part video series, showcasing courageous students who inspire us with their remarkable success. Watch their stories every Monday, leading up to the ACSA Leadership Summit awards presentation Nov. 10 in San Diego.

Dante Del Prete is a young man who exudes positivity.

“A lot of people look at everything that’s wrong in their life and how things aren’t going their way,” said Greg Leland, assistant principal at Sierra High in Manteca – ACSA Region 7. “Here’s a guy who’s had so many things that haven’t gone his way. And yet whenever you talk to him, he’s positive, he’s upbeat.”

But what makes Dante’s story all the more remarkable is the journey he took to get to this point in his life. Born prematurely at 28 weeks, Dante suffered a stroke after birth and developed hydrocephalus, a buildup of too much cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Doctors told Dante’s parents he might never walk or talk.

“As a father, it’s just having to have faith,” Rick Del Prete said. “We’re powerless. There’s nothing we can do. When the news came down, and we’re in the neo-natal care, it’s a lot of fear and not knowing what the diagnosis was.”

Doctors also diagnosed Dante with a mild form of cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills. Dante underwent intense speech therapy, and by the age of 2 ½, he was speaking full sentences. His physical limitations still lingered, but that did not stop him from developing a love of sports. Dante participated in both Little League baseball and basketball.

“In my heart, I knew that his fine motor skills were not going to allow him to play the way he wanted – to play, the way I played,” Rick Del Prete said. “But he always tried, and he loved it. He always loved sports because I did.”

In fourth grade, Dante faced yet another obstacle, a tumor in his shoulder.

“He had fallen down and he didn’t complain,” said Zoe Del Prete, Dante’s mother. “But I took him to the doctor. And they discovered he had a tumor between his humerus and his shoulder bone. Because he was premature, the humerus and the shoulder bone did not fuse together, so a tumor was growing in its place.”

The tumor was benign, but doctors inserted two titanium rods in Dante’s left arm, limiting his range of motion and ending his dreams of playing competitive sports.

“At first, I didn’t want to believe it,” Dante said. “I thought that honestly I’d have a chance to compete again. But I couldn’t, and that was that. I just rolled with the punches.”

Dante still wanted to stay connected to sports, so he joined the Sierra High football team as a manager and later assisted the basketball team as a videographer.

“Obviously, we have a tight knit group with our basketball team, and he was a part of that,” said Scott Thomason, Sierra High head basketball coach. “We always considered him a family member with our basketball team. For him to be around it, unable to play but to be around it with the football team and the basketball team, it was pretty special for him.”

Despite the constant challenges and struggles, Dante’s commitment to persevering is what those who know him find compelling.

“When you’re in education, you’re dealing with 14 or 15 hundred kids a year,” Leland said. “Dante is one of the kids I’ll never forget because of everything that he’s gone through in his life.”

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