What were you thinking of when you were 11 years old? It probably fell along the lines of what you were going to do after school or what chores you had waiting on you or what friends you were going to hang out with on the weekend. Those were the things that seemed to be the most pressing. But those things seem to pale in comparison to the thoughts, dreams, and aspirations of a self-assured, multi-talented, bright 11 year old in Locust Grove. All three descriptions of this young student could be considered understatements; he quickly captures your attention.
One conversation with Leonardo Orellana, or Leo as he likes to be called, and you’ll soon discover he’s no ordinary youth. The oldest of four children, Leo still exhibits the youthfulness of all his peers, but you can bet that not many of them know exactly where they want to go to college and what they want to do for a career. His lack of hesitation and confidence takes you aback for a moment.
“I’m trying to get a singing career right now,” says Leo. “I am hoping that a manager somewhere may see me somehow and offer me a contract…you know, like through a story or something.” (Hopefully there is no pressure intended on this article to make that happen.) Singing comes naturally to Leo and it is rooted before he even took his first breath. His mother shared the gift of music and song with him while she was carrying him. “He’s a good dancer, too,” shares Janeth, Leo’s mom. “I would sing and play music and he would move around a lot. He’s still dancing and singing today.”
Leo is not one to hide his penchant for performing either. He has shared his talent for singing and dancing at school and church – solo or group, it does not matter. He is interested in an array of music – from classic to hip-hop and rap. Beethoven and Lil’ Wayne both make the list of favorite artists.
Beyond his singing, acting and dancing…his talents continue to inspire and amaze with his visual artistry through origami and his linguistic artistry through the mastery of three languages. “I have been making origami artwork for the past six years,” Leo points out while displaying the traditional and recognizable crane, a heart, and a vibrantly colored sun burst.
The art of conversation may be Leo’s most unique talent, especially for someone so young. He has the ability to communicate in English, Spanish, and through sign language. The various channels derive from location, heritage, and necessity. Leo’s mom is hearing-impaired and as a result has exposed her son to this third language since he was 2 years old. His ability to speak through his hands has enabled him to serve as an interpreter for meetings between teachers and administrators at Unity Grove Elementary where he is in the 5th grade.
Principal Anne Wilson is quick to point out Leo’s assistance and maturity for what might normally be required of an adult interpreter. Having great parent involvement for a school is important to the faculty and staff, and through Leo, his family is able to maintain that high level of participation in all areas of the school.
“Leo’s family is very involved in school activities due in part to Leo helping to facilitate communication for his mother,” says Principal Anne Wilson. “Leo’s mother, Mrs. Barahone-Sego, reads lips well, but when communication involves a great deal of detail, Leo serves as the communication link between his mother and the school.”
Interpreter, artist, singer, budding entrepreneur – for such a busy young man, is there ever a moment of downtime…and if so, how can he possibly relax? “I like to play video games, read, and work on the computer, but my brothers and sister usually find a way to interrupt,” says Leo. He laughingly says his siblings can be “exhausting.”
All talents aside, Leo is still an enthusiastic young student looking forward to the next step in his education – middle school. Leo knows the days of more classes and teachers are coming soon and there is one thing he definitely looks forward to at his next school. “I am ready for my own locker,” says Leo, “because I won’t have to carry around all my books and stuff all the time.” Such a simple request for assistance from a young man used to carrying a lot on his plate.