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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.”

Anon May 23, 2012 at 05:28 PM
WHY IS DOES MARTHA THINK SHE KNOWS EVERYTHING? OH MY GOD!!!!!! MARTHA GO AWAY!! GO HUG A TREE IN OREGON OR SOMETHING!!!!!! ITS COMMON SENSE LADY!!!!!!!! GO GET SOME!!!!!!!
Anthony May 23, 2012 at 05:43 PM
American Girl; you do not know how to write a sentence. Sounds like you need to go back to school, stupid!
Anon May 23, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Anthony i am writing on an iPad so bite me! Are you Marthas son? Come and see me anytime so I can school you also!
Diana May 23, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Are you kidding me, American Girl is just one of very few that sees it and tells it like it is in this town and has more knowledge then most on just about anything anyone can throw out there. She can say more in one sentence then most can say in paragraph after paragraph of babbling 50 cent words that do nothing but blow wind on the subject. Stupid....really Anthony can't you come up with something better then that?
Diana May 23, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Martha is the wise one and we should all listen to her and follow her direction, she will lead us all to never, never land where there will be peace and tranquility for all that believe in her, tee hee!
Diana May 23, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Yes Martha, just as you always play the roll of adviser, leader and educator of all things. Please!
Martha L. Bridges May 23, 2012 at 07:10 PM
It takes courage and determination for someone to go back to school, often while holding down a job and taking care of family responsibilities. I'm a taxpayer, and have worked hard all my life. I imagine many of these special graduates can tell similar stories, and in my book that adds to their honor and accomplishment. Taxpayers fund government and thus fund education. So education should be available to everyone. People shouldn't think small and negative or be closed minded to new ways to educate. Much education comes after completing the standard courses and graduating. In fact, the additional education gotten while working a full time job is often more meaningful and valuable in helping people through life. It certainly increases their earning and employment opportunities! Back in the day - way back - people could pick one field or career, get the necessary degree, go to work for one or two employers and be fixed for life. Today the average person finds work in 7 to 10 different fields during their lifetime, and each job change often requires different knowledge and a whole new set of skills. This trend will only intensify in the years to come. This's why our President encourages everyone to get a greater amount of education. It is the only thing that allows us to be competitive in the global economy. So it is the fiscally responsible thing for taxpayers to fund education and different approaches to providing that education…to all Americans.
Martha L. Bridges May 23, 2012 at 07:20 PM
You can lead dumb animals to water, but you can't force them to drink. No one is being forced to read what I write. If it's too much for you, feel free not to read it!
Ken Mayes May 23, 2012 at 08:36 PM
We would not need all these alternate schools if the primary education system in this country was worth a damn. With 60% of the country "functionally illiterate meaning they cannot read and follow simple instructions. The United States ranks 20th among developed nation in education. California ranks 47th out of 50 states, the only thing California ranks number one at is "eligibility for the free lunch program". Rather than ending free rides to a school that does not function they need to end the shameful waste we call education. It is time to dismantle the existing system and start over.
Diana May 23, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Sorry Martha but believe it or not I was posting to Anthony!!!
Martha L. Bridges May 23, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Ken, your complaints about the functionally illiterate rates and the lack of quality education in our schools are valid. Our educational standing compared to other states and other countries is deplorable. However, we do need to identify alternatives before dismantling the primary education system. We are spending for too much money on the wrong things. Alternatives to the failed and long outmoded traditional system abound, but those in the current system are married to it and very reluctant to pilot new programs. We do need alternative methods for delivering education, and programs in addition to the traditional ones. If we are going to continue funding public schools they need to deliver decent education - including technical and trade skills that can lead to immediate employment.
Anon May 23, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Ken that's a democrat union problem there! They cannot get rid of the bad teachers! LAUSD is a great example!
Anon May 23, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Martha I may not have a silver tongue like you think you have. But I know I am right. I live in the real world. Reality is where i am! Creating more programs through schools does not fix a thing. Fixing the problems at the core is what needs to be done. Liberals mask everything over with money. They think that will fix it. Why don't we change some of the curriculum in schools to hardcore ethics classes. I bet in 15 years you would see changes like you wouldn't believe.
California Girl May 24, 2012 at 01:19 AM
CONGRATULATIONS to those who graduated!! Hope you all succeed in your future!!
susie-q May 24, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Three ofthe Alternative schools mentioned have existed for more than 10 years in this district one of them for over 25 years and the online academy replaced 2 schools that were closed last year. I think the district has downsized according to these facts. Thank you, Martha for the positive feedback. I agree that on occasions like this we should focus on the positive and give creditwhere credit is due.
Ken Mayes May 24, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Martha, technical and trade schools would be a good addition but the basic problem starts way before that. When you look at the test results for 4th graders only 23% are proficient at reading and almost half (50%) do not even have a basic understanding. If you cannot read and understand what you are reading your future in life is severely limited. As for the problem being a union problem that is only part of it. We live in a society where we teach our children there are no losers everyone is a winner and can do whatever they put their minds to and that ain't so. Some people are good working with their hands and some are intellectual but rarely are they both. I personally have known people who graduated from continuation school and done well in life, the reason they ended up there was they got pushed ahead before they were ready and fell behind their peers never to catch up at which point they dropped out and later in life came back to education from a different angle as most continuing education classes are taught by a different breed of teacher, they realize they are teaching adults and not children. Congratulations to all that persevered.
Martha L. Bridges May 24, 2012 at 05:05 AM
Ken, I agree that the schools are basically failing a good percentage of children in the early grades, but I also think parents and society have to shoulder some of the blame. Parents need to set expectations of good behavior and self discipline with their children. They need to set the bar for achievement and be prepared to help and intervene if they see children slipping behind. Problem is that we now have at least a whole generation or more who were not taught good behavior and self discipline, and they aren’t good role models for their children. In many homes there is no cohesive structure to life. Gone are the family meals with conversation rather than television or other electronic gadgets. Gone are parents that read themselves and can convey not only the importance of reading, but the joy and utility it can bring to lives. As you point out, this leaves the children hamstrung for life. I’m not sure what the answer is, except that it isn’t just more funding. We need to get much more value for what we are spending on our educational systems. More and more alternatives to the failed traditional systems must be found and put in place. That said, I think that adults who make the effort to return to school and learn the basics they missed out on should be sincerely congratulated. Their achievement shouldn’t be detracted from by some rant about the cost of the alternate programs that have assisted them.
Ken Mayes May 24, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Martha it's easy to say that parents need to be responsible and intervene but have you ever had to deal with the system. Talking to the school system about a situation with a child is like talking to a brick wall they have their way of dealing with things and they are totally unbendable. Unruly children with like minded parents is another situation in which the school system is unprepared to deal with, instead of expelling the child and letting the juvenile courts handle the problem parent and child they try to appease with almost no success.
susie-q May 24, 2012 at 01:20 PM
The alternative schools were not just created...Ortega High School has been a part of the district for over 25 years along with Valley Adult. Keith McCarthy Program has been around for almost 10 years. They are all three housed on the same campus under 1 principal. Southern Online Academy was created last year to replace 3 schools that existed as Alternative Education Center. These schools did not just pop up. Valley Adult has become fee based and basically supports itself. Sadly as budget cuts increase, as they are these valuable programs will be cut. These programs are successful because the students that attend them want to be there. No one is forced to go there.
Nina M May 24, 2012 at 07:15 PM
I appreciate Marthas arguments. I am one of the graduates this year from ortega high. This school is amazing and helped me in many ways. Mrs.Longe is a wonderful principal. I am disgusted by the negative comments I have just read. These schools are our second chance to prove that we are not lost causes. Josh was right about his rehabilitation statement. I know both Josh and Esteban personally. I love Ortega and the fact that people believe it to be a waste of funds is insulting. This school changes lives and helps teenagers recover faith in themselves. If you are too small-minded to see that then you are missing something.
susie-q May 24, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Nina, I am so proud of you for speaking out as a student of Ortega High School. Congratulations on your graduation. Best wishes on your future.
California Girl May 25, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Susie-q- You are right!! These school's were not built over night!! They have been there for years!! My actually has been working at Ortega in the day care center and she has been working there for 15 years if not more! So people need to get over it and move on, go debate about something else, this was all about students graduating, so instead of you arguing why don't you congratulate these wonderful students for doing a great job and hope they succeed in their future
California Girl May 25, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Nina M- Mrs. Lounge is a great person she was the principal at Elsinore when I was there my freshman year, don't pay attention to these rude comments!!! Congrats on graduating!!
Anon May 25, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Ok once again , I NEVER SAID THEY SHOULD HAVE THESE SCHOOLS, BUT WHY DO WE NEED 4??????? WHY?????? We only have high schools! Use your heads people! We do not need 4 alternative education schools in a city this size. I could Riverside having that many, but not Elsinore. No one wants to cut them, just be smart about spending.
California Girl May 25, 2012 at 05:23 PM
American Girl I understand where you are coming from! But Elsinore has been here a long time, so has Temescal and Ortega and Tri Valley, but Lake Land Village High School just came a couple of years age which we did not need another high school, and the same goes when they have all of these old elementary schools and they shut them down and build new ones which I think is crazy, there is nothing wrong with the old elementary schools, it is just wasting money when they build new schools, I am mad that they are not going to probably have the buses next year because there are kids who need them to get home and to school, and the bus drivers are going to lose there jobs!!! But they also have Ortega for Adults who want to go back to school and get there GED'S, but I don't understand why they have Ortega is it because it is easier then a regular High School??? That is why one of my cousins went to Ortega because she could not handle the school work at Elsinore, because you have to actually learn and do homework every day!!! And I think Ortega they give you a packet and you just have to turn it in every week!! How easy it that!!
California Girl May 25, 2012 at 05:25 PM
American Girl, we don't need 4 High Schools!!!
susie-q 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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