December 18, 2009
In this season of miracles, it is wonderful to know that local miracles continue to happen, and that; best of all, they involve local young people.
The proof was on display recently when 22 young men graduated from Los Robles High School, the education arm of Los Prietos Boys Camp. I attend many graduations countywide, and I can honestly say that not one is as moving as the ceremony for these young men. Their road was harder and longer, and filled with challenges many of us cannot imagine. Drugs, gangs, absent or negligent parents, abuse — the laundry list of hurdles is sometimes unimaginable. It makes their diplomas that much sweeter.
The students’ own words explain better than anything else what this milestone means.
Wrote Christopher, 17, of Goleta: “Graduating high school means opening up horizons, achieving a huge milestone, being able to pursue personal interests and over all, making my family proud.” Wrote Hector, 16, of Santa Barbara: “Graduating from Los Robles is an honor because this school is the one that really helped me the most. This is the first step to my future.” Wrote William 17, of Lompoc: “I’m excited about moving on to the next chapter in my life. This has also made me realize that life has a lot to offer as long as you open your eyes.”
Our office’s Juvenile Court and Community School program has witnessed many miracles over the past several years, reaching out to our county’s highest risk youth and, in full partnership with the county Probation Department, providing the helping hand that has truly changed lives. Thanks in part to online academic programs that enable teachers to broaden the programs available to students, academic credits earned by students at our community school rose from 11,000 in 2006-07 to 17,000 this past year. Credits earned by students at court schools rose from 1,600 in 2006-07 to 8,200 this past year. Those cold dry numbers translate into flesh and blood triumphs — a monument to the hard work by staff and students working very hard to make it happen.
Credits lead to graduations, and in that regard the numbers are even more encouraging. Staff members working in the program today still remember in the late ‘90s when Los Robles graduated its first two students ever. It was considered a miracle at the time that two students had likely been saved from a life of recidivism. In the 2000-01 school year, 36 students graduated from juvenile court and community schools. This past year, 125 students got high school diplomas — and a true chance for a productive future.
Helping make that chance much more likely, three Rotary Clubs provide scholarships to students so that they can further their education. The Goleta Noontime Rotary, the Santa Maria Breakfast Rotary, and the Solvang Breakfast Rotary all provide the students with $500 scholarships to jumpstart their ability to go forward. The understanding is that if they maintain good grades and wish to proceed further, more scholarship money is available as well.
Here is perhaps the most statistic of all: Of the students who graduate, 73 percent do not re-offend. Of those who do not graduate, 80 percent DO re-offend.
The community has truly come together to acknowledge that these students represent human capital with vast potential if there is a course correction from their current path. There is no downside to providing the helping hand of education and opportunity.
Wrote Angel, 18, of Santa Maria: “No matter where you come from, and no matter who you are, you can do amazing things with your life; all you really have to do is try. So here I am, a nobody, from nowhere, doing the greatest thing in the world — graduating from high school.” Wrote Isaac, 18, of Santa Maria: “I have accomplished something that I never thought I would.” Wrote Jorge, 16, of Lompoc: “I never thought I was going to be a high school graduate. Thanks to Los Robles High School teaching staff, I made my parents proud.” Wrote Aaron, 17, of Solvang: “I’m stoked to be a high school graduate! With this accomplishment, I now know that anything is possible for my future.”
The two students who spoke at graduation were unlike traditional speakers because of the unique experiences and challenges their “classmates” had faced. Said one of the speakers: “In all honesty, none of us thought that we were going to graduate from high school. In fact, many of us thought that we were going to spend the rest of our lives locked up, or have something worse happen to us…Even though we have all had many struggles and difficulties in our lives, there has always been someone out there to support and encourage us to continue. In the end, we have all come out on top.”
He related that ever since a young boy, he was always fighting for ways to survive. His parents weren’t able to be there, so his grandma tried to take care of him and his brothers and sister. He began to hang out with the wrong crowd because they gave him a feeling of belonging. “I believe I speak for everyone when I say that we all want this feeling, just to belong somewhere, and have no problems at all in our lives.” He said that Los Robles High School and probation staff encouraged him to do well and leave his old life behind. “In the end, I began to accept the opportunities that were being given to me. And now I stand here, proud that I’ve made something of my life; and also, that I am a high school graduate.”
Said the other student speaker: “Since I was a youngster, school wasn’t really a priority for me. I was just into doing things that kept getting me in trouble and kept me out of school…After being sent to Boys Camp, I finally started attending school…I met people that actually tried to help me…Here at Los Robles High School, teachers told me that I had a chance to graduate and encouraged me to put more effort into school. I’m proud to say that I’m a high school graduate.”
It’s worth listening to the words of these young men because it is as revealing as it is inspiring. Wrote Jonathan, 17, of Santa Maria: “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. I couldn’t change school, so I changed the way I thought about it and now I’m a high school graduate.”
Darren, 17, of Santa Barbara seemed to speak for all when he wrote: “I believe that graduating high school is the first step to a successful and rewarding life.”
There are no guarantees in life, as we all know, and it is not possible to see what the future holds for these young men. But it is indisputable that they have a high school diploma, a scholarship, and a clear shot at a smoother path than the one that led them to the Boys Camp. Thanks to the dedicated, hard-working educators and probation staff at the camp, miracles really do happen.