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LEUSD Alternative High School Students Get Second Shot At Diploma

Nearly 200 students from the four Lake Elsinore Unified School District alternative schools graduated Tuesday.

Students at Ortega High School, Keith McCarthy Academy, Southern California Online Academy, and Valley Adult School are a little different than the average group of high schoolers. For starters, some are well into middle age. Others were kicked out of their former high schools or fell behind in their studies.

But one thing unites them today: They earned a high school diploma and on Tuesday walked in their graduation ceremony at Ortega High School in Lake Elsinore.

Nearly 200 students from the four Lake Elsinore Unified School District alternative schools took part in the ceremony, and emotion ran high for some.

Graduating is “the first triumph in my life,” Class of 2012 Ortega High School graduate Josh Chavez told the audience gathered at the campus. A former Lakeside High School student, Chavez said he made some bad decisions that landed him in the alternative school.

“I had gotten good at one thing: lying. I lost so many good people because of my lying,” he said. “Some will never be able to forgive me.”

But time at an alternative school turned his life around, he said.

“Ortega is an amazing school. It’s a place for all sorts of rehabilitation,” he said.

Chavez has joined the U.S. Army and plans to obtain his Master’s degree in business.

“Dad,” he said, “I will make you proud.”

Ortega High School Class of 2012 grad Esteban Arenas was also appreciative of his time at Ortega. He came to the school during his junior year after “getting into trouble," which included drinking and smoking.

“I saw my friends getting incarcerated – even murdered,” he said.

Arenas knew he had to make a change.

“Opportunity was right in front of me,” he said, adding that during his two years at Ortega, he has “become a caring, social, and optimistic human being.

“I want to go to college. I will not forget this school,” he continued.

Sherri Anderson turns 50 this year. She choked back tears as she described her path to becoming a Class of 2012 Valley Adult School graduate.

Anderson should have graduated high school in 1979, but she had “trouble at home” and “wanted to be grown up.” After dropping out, she managed to land a few “demeaning” jobs – fast food, clerical.

She also became a drug addict and along the way had two children.

But something clicked in 2009.

“I wanted my diploma,” she told the audience.

Anderson needed 170 credits to graduate. A straight-A student at Valley Adult School, she proudly walked with her class Tuesday.

“Don’t ever give up,” she said.

Many of the students who graduated Tuesday thanked Principal Kathy Longe, who is retiring this year.

Longe, herself an alternative school graduate now renown for riding a Harley Davidson to campus, danced in the aisle with students Tuesday, and tearfully told them, “You have all been a part of my life.”

California Girl May 25, 2012 at 05:25 PM
American Girl, we don't need 4 High Schools!!!
Community Member May 26, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Not true California Girl, Ortega does not give packets, they use the same curriculum as the comprehensive high schools only in a condensed form and addressing the same standards. The tests scores on the CST's are not much below the other traditional high schools. This format gives the students the opportunity to make up credits they are behind. The students also have complete a certain amount of homework. The school is accredited by the state.
California Girl May 26, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Susie-q- have to disagree with you, because I remember when one of my friends went there and she said that is what she did a packet every week!!! But yes they might have changed it in the past 7 years, and it is sad that they have a school like Ortega for people who can't hack it a real High School!!! I busted my ass off at a REAL high school and I struggled yes but I graduated early and I walked with my class!!! I think they should get rid of ortega and stop wasting tax payers money on a school that is pointless when we have 3 other high schools in the area!!!
Anon May 26, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Susie some of us raise responsible kids and some do not! It's that simple!
Dina March 23, 2013 at 03:28 PM
All I have to say if it wasn't for Ortega High my son wouldn't of graduated & he wouldn't of been one of the speakers at his graduation. I'm very grateful to the staff for all there support!!

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