The lunchtime chatter drones on dully. The upper-quad table is already surrounded by kids, but one more approaches. “Hey guys, it’s me!” says junior Gabriel Hayes with a big smile.
To those students lucky enough to spend time with Hayes, who has Down syndrome, he is always an inspiring, optimistic and fun-to-be-around guy.
“Gabe adds a lively atmosphere to our table,” says junior Ian Wahle, whose social group’s lunchtime is made all the more social whenever Hayes stops by.
When he does, his instructional aide, Tony Burciaga, is never far off. And he hasn’t been far off in Gabe’s life for six years.
Burciaga has been with Hayes since 2009, and while he has worked one-on-one with other students, Gabe is his longest-running.
“Working with those other kids makes me realize how easygoing Gabe is,” Burciaga says, appreciative of Gabe’s flexibility.
Junior Nathanael Hayes, Gabe’s twin brother, also comments on his relaxed nature: “I couldn’t imagine living with anyone else.”
Around campus, Hayes and Burciaga are a well-known and well-liked duo. But how much do CHS students really know about this affable pair?
Burciaga, for his part, has always lived life without regrets. He spent two years in Seattle playing his guitar, harmonica and drum kit in restaurants and bars, just to find that he disliked lugging his gear to gigs.
Before and all through college at California State University Monterey Bay, where he majored in collaborative health and human services, Burciaga worked with developmentally disabled adults at the Gateway Center of Monterey County in Pacific Grove.
“I always knew that working with people with disabilities was something that I enjoyed,” he says of that experience.
Now, Burciaga’s happy here in the Carmel Unified School District, where, over the years, he and Hayes have participated together in activities like seventh grade’s Winter Outdoor Education trip.
“I like to work with Tony,” Hayes says affectionately. “He’s my pal.”
Although the two only get together perhaps twice a year outside of school, Gabe’s parents are supportive of the work Burciaga does with him, and they have a yearly tradition of having Burciaga and his wife over for dinner on Gabe’s birthday.
For his part, Hayes is passionate about many things, from playing disc golf with Burciaga to strumming ukuleles with Pat Stadille at the middle school. He is proud to have almost attained the rank of Eagle Scout through his project painting the museum at Hastings Natural History Reserve in eastern Carmel Valley.
Furthermore, Gabe is an uncle to two other students on campus: junior Carter Hayes and freshman Myla Hayes. Their father, Gabe’s half-brother Rob, inspires him, as does his full brother Devon—a “great, great big brother,” in Gabe’s words.
Gabe’s father, local judge Larry Hayes, worked for a time as a deputy sheriff in Ventura County. According to Burciaga, Gabe would someday like to follow in his father’s footsteps, either in law enforcement or the court system.
For now, though, Gabe is taking full advantage of what CHS has to offer him: Horticulture, Photography, Choir, office aide and the MPC Culinary class are all electives with which he is or has been involved.
As a sophomore, Gabe enjoyed Holly Lederle’s Photography class, in which he made friends easily and loved working on prints. “He [and Tony] had a great time working in the dark room,” Lederle says of Hayes.
In addition, Gabe has a great relationship with attendance secretary Anne Berry, and he is in his second year of American Sign Language.
“Gabe knew a lot of sign before he got into sign language,” Burciaga notes. “In fact, Gabe and his mother [Lane] were one of the main reasons that my wife and I pushed sign language for our son. He’s 15 months, but he signs.”
When he and Burciaga are asked what they can learn from each other, Burciaga responds in earnest, “From Gabriel, I can learn the importance of having a positive attitude.”
“What I love about working with Gabriel is his honesty,” he says. “[He] makes me think of the important things in life. I think we could all learn a lot from Gabriel.”
Burciaga is glad for the kindness he sees toward Hayes on campus. He just wants kids to know that if Gabe doesn’t respond when they say hi, he’s only shy.
So if you see Gabe Hayes in the halls, say hello. He just might make your day.