San Andreas Continuation High School held its joint graduation ceremony for San Benito County alternate education schools that also include Santa Ana Opportunity School and Pinnacles Community School at its campus courtyard on June 1.
Approximately 50 guests watched 29 high school graduates and one eighth-grade student receive their diploma and promotion.
“I’m very, very proud of my students, because some of them have had a lot of obstacles in their way,” said Elena de la Puerta, who has been a school counselor for the alternative education schools for 19 years. “I always tell them this is just the first step in their journey and I want them to keep moving forward. I tell them there are bigger and better things in front of them.”
Graduation speakers included interim Principal Lorna Gilbert, San Benito County Board of Education Superintendent Krystal Lomanto and San Benito County Office of Education Board member Joan Campbell-Garcia.
San Andreas graduating seniors Fatima Ramirez, Eliza Parra and Ruben Avila delivered farewell addresses to their classmates. Each touched on the struggles of the pandemic, the return to in-person learning and the mission for student success despite these issues.
Lomanto also spoke to guests about the sudden transition of principals for San Benito County Alternate Education Schools at the start of the 2021-22 school year.
She said Lisa Jelinek, who had served as the principal for alternative education schools since 2018, suddenly left last fall for family reasons.
Gilbert was the assistant principal for alternative education schools from 2001 to 2008, and though she had been retired for five years (after working 18 years as the director of special services for the San Benito County Office of Education), she agreed “without hesitation” when Lomanto called on her to step in. Lomanto said she also appointed Duane Morgan (who worked at the county office for several years) to share Gilbert’s position as interim principal.
In her speech, Lomanto also acknowledged the trials that families, students and faculty endured during COVID.
“You’ve survived this year as you returned to in-person learning, which is not easy,” she told the graduates. “So for you to be at school every day—for you to be here today—is an accomplishment. You’ve made it through the past two years with courage and determination. We are extremely proud of you; know that we are all rooting for you each and every day.”
De la Puerta said she noticed a spike in anxiety and depression among students this year. She attributed it to the transition to in-person learning and the effects of economic hardship.
“We saw more food and housing insecurity among the families,” she said. “For some of the kids, coming back was hard.”
Compared to the 16 students who graduated from San Andreas last year, de la Puerta said the increase to 26 graduates this year was partly because numerous students transferred after having issues with distance learning at San Benito High School.
“A lot of kids were not logging in,” she said. “For some of them it was the Wi-Fi, and for some of them their parents were just not home and they were not doing what they needed to do. A lot of them did not do well on the computer and preferred to have a teacher in front of them.”
San Andreas students received assistance on behavioral issues, mental health and home issues, de la Puerta said. Students also received support from social workers at the San Benito County Office of Education and Community Solutions. Tutors from Youth Alliance, a nonprofit that provides youth services, and counselors from San Benito County Behavioral Health were also on campus to assist students at least twice a week.
“We’ve been very lucky that in the last two, three years, we’ve had a lot of support,” she said. “And our teachers do a great job of giving support, too.”
Keynote speaker Parra equated the past four years of high school as “a crazy roller coaster, not only for me, but for all of us here today.”
“COVID has played a big role in our high school experiences,” she said, “but today we are here proving that even through these challenges, we did it and we made it. I am very proud of not only myself, but of all my classmates here.”
Gilbert is looking forward to how each student perseveres after graduation.
“Every one of our students travels a pathway that many of us, that most people, will never experience,” she said. “These kids have survived such adversity. Many of these students will do incredible things in life.”
San Andreas graduate Kassandra Perez, for instance, plans to attend Gavilan College in the fall. Though she is interested in taking dental assisting classes, she also wants to keep an open mind.
“I’m going to start going there, talk to counselors and see what my best options are,” she said.
Fellow San Andreas graduate Kellin Boggeln said he plans to study water treatment.
“If that goes well, then I’m going down that road,” he said.
De la Puerta said she believes the class of 2022 will achieve its goals. She was also quick to challenge anyone who says otherwise.
In addition to former students who are teachers, she noted, there are others who own their own businesses, or are probation officers. “So when people say, ‘Oh San Andreas, that school,’ I am very proud of what my former students are doing out there. Just because you came to San Andreas doesn’t mean that you cannot accomplish wonderful things. I’m very, very proud of them. It’s been a hard couple of years. I know they’re going to do great things.”
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