Alexis Gurnard Memorial Scholarship raises funds for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Students

Alexis Gurnard

June 6, 2024 – The Deaf and Hard of Hearing program has awarded their second annual Alexis Gurnard Memorial Scholarship (AGMS), and the annual fundraising event for the scholarship is coming up in late June.

The scholarship awards $1,500 to a graduating senior in Clovis Unified that has received at least three years of service from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program, for use toward college, vocational school, or starting a business. Alexis’s husband, Jim Gurnard, has kindly added $1,000 to the award for the last two years.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing program was established 32 years ago by Antonina Cardinalli, and Alexis was brought on as an instructional aide in her classroom.

With assistance and urging from the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) director at the time, Janet Van Gelder, Cardinalli established the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) program on the Garfield Elementary School campus in the early 90s.

“[Van Gelder] was a very forward thinker in providing services for students,” Cardinalli says, “She was all about educating out students in the way Clovis educated out students; with high expectations, and with the expectations that [they] will graduate.”

SELPAs are founded on the principle that all students can learn, and that students with special needs must be given equal opportunities through high quality educational programs and services.

The DHH program at Clovis Unified boasts a 100% success rate for educational completion, including only one student who needed to come back later to complete their GED.

“We hold them accountable, even if they have other disabilities,” Cardinalli says, “That’s the Clovis way, every child can learn.”

From the beginning, Cardinalli worked with school principals to ensure that her DHH program was not pushed to the remote areas of their campuses, and are instead grouped with the rest of their grade level’s classrooms.

“They [the principals] are so inclusive, it is amazing, it’s like we are not a second thought, we are an original thought with everyone else,” Cardinalli says, “We are very much advocated for our kids and teachers.”

The program now boasts services from birth to 22 years of age, and a permanent home for their program at the Buchanan Educational Center, and an on-site audiologist.

Cardinalli herself became trained as an Auditory Therapist, to assist students with hearing aids and cochlear implants in listening and language skills.

“When cochlear implants first started coming out, and kids started getting them more and more I kind of saw the writing on the wall,” Cardinalli says, “The device doesn’t fix their hearing loss, it provides access.”

Children who begin processing sound later in life tend to struggle with the basic ability to recognize and respond to sounds, and also to language, Cardinalli explains, and so she teaches these students how to listen to language.

“Our staff has noticed a significant increase in our childrens’ abilities to process language because they have had that one-on-one time to target their language skills,” Cardinalli says.

When Alexis Gurnard passes away suddenly in 2021, Cardinalli says she was inspired to do something in her name.

“We were very close,” Cardinalli says, “she worked half of her life for this program, God just put on my heart to make a scholarship, and I said ‘Okay, I’ll listen.’”

The scholarship progressed faster than Cardinalli expected.

“We started by selling legacy t-shirts, and the first fundraiser we raised about $30,000,” Cardinalli says, “I did not think we could do that.”

From there, she set up an endowment through the Foundation of Clovis Schools.

In its inaugural year, the Alexis Gurnard Memorial Scholarship was able to give out two $1,500 scholarships to graduating seniors, but the goal is to give one award per year.

The annual fundraising event, called Seeds of Joy, was inspired by Alexis’s love for sunflowers, and effort to seek joy in her illness.

“When Alexis found out she had cancer, she said ‘Nina, I just want to find the joy in this diagnosis’,” Cardinalli says,” Alexis loved the lord and she loved sunflowers.”

The AGMS fundraising event this year will be on June 29th at 5PM at Toca Winery in Madera. Tickets are on sale, but are limited to only 120 attendees. There will be a dessert auction, jewelry for sale, and the Marie Wilson Band will be performing.

There are also t-shirts for sale, volunteer opportunities, or you can donate directly from the website.

If you would like to purchase a ticket or donate, use the QR code (below) or visit