El Camino High School's first graduating class of 2020: Pamela Andrade Cordero, Jordan Ziyad Atallah, Anthony Emanuel Barragan Chavez, Erick Javier Cardenas Sanchez, Bryan Chavez Cruz, Ruth Anne Codoni, Victoria Doktor, Kristian Thuy Duong, Jordan Edwards, James Fishtrom, Britany Flores, Mariela Kathleen Flores, Carlos Daniel Fructuoso, Abigail Harris, Ashley Hernandez Moreno, Cynthia Maria Hernandez Negrete, Katelyn Kelley, Nathaniel Alexander Laird, Robert Laube, Naydetin Lorenzo Xala, Bella McDermott, Jameal McKinney, Jasmine Medeiros, Tyler Paul, Rebekah Nicole Pekur, Emiliano Perez, Sophia Renee Racines, Sierra Lynn Reiter, Hannahjo Roper, Travis Smith, Angelina Sofia Valvero, Conrado Villa-Virrueta, Naomi Villa, James Alan Wells, Cayla Nicole Whetstone, and Beshoy Adel Soliman Yousif.
Thirty-six students from El Camino High School in Rohnert Park, dressed in caps and gowns, accepted their high school diplomas on December 19 amid cheering from their proud families and friends. Often many of the students enrolled at El Camino only need a few more credits to graduate, and so the administration decided three years ago to organize graduations mid-year, besides the standard one at the end of the spring semester.
“We started this as an incentive,” says Angie Scardina, Assistant Principal to Rancho Cotate High School and Program Director of El Camino High School. “Sometimes we get kids in that are so close [to graduating]. What was happening is that they would be done by January or February and then would have to wait until May or June to come back. We found that some kids weren’t always coming back [for the graduation ceremony.] It was our way of wanting to recognize those that were able to finish a semester early, and to motivate them to stay on top of things and get stuff done.”
El Camino is an alternative high school, housed on the Rancho Cotate High School campus. It provides students who are not on track to graduate from RCHS a second chance to earn their high school diploma. There are generally about fifty to sixty students enrolled in the school at any given time. While some transfer in from other parts of the county, most started at Rancho and transferred to El Camino in their junior or senior years as it became clear that more assistance was needed to help them graduate.
“Students come to us for many reasons but the highest percentage of our students are students that are not on track to graduate Rancho Cotate High School,” says Scardina. “We are their second chance to graduate. Other students move into our district and are credit deficient. Our goal is to get them ready for life after high school.”
Every one of the graduates have already enrolled in, or applied to, Santa Rosa Junior College, aided by the school’s career counselor, Jess Hazelwood, to continue their education.
“We want them to realize that doors are open for them,” says Scardina. “Doors might have been closed as they were growing up and they may have had some life struggles but they now have a new fresh start. They have adult life, and the JC, and possibly trade or tech schools – whatever their choices are. We want to end on a positive note and give them all the skills that we can.”
Besides completing their credits through a blended learning approach, using the Edgenuity program combined with teacher instruction, students also learn important life skills such as how to write a resume and cover letter and how to fill out an application. The school is also proficiency based, so if a student comes in with prior knowledge and aptitude in a certain subject, they are able to earn credits faster.
“A lot of our kids at El Camino are very bright and are very capable, they just either had life struggles growing up, were just not motivated, or were sick and missed a lot of school because of health concerns,” says Scardina. “So it’s not that they weren’t smart and capable. If they come in and show proficiency then we can get through units quicker.”
Scardina emphasizes the need for alternative programs like this to give students the option to be successful in life. Heading up the school for the past four years is a way for her to give back from what she herself describes as a troubled childhood which was positively influenced by two teachers in her life.
“The best reward I get from this is when the kids are successful,” says Scardina. “I tell them all the time, ‘I’m not doing anything for you except keeping the doors open. It’s all your choices and your motivation. I’m not going to close doors, I’m leaving them open and will try to help direct you in the path you need to go.’ I am thankful that our district offers this program and that we have options for our kids.”