Above, Whitman Continuation High School students, from left, Manuel Vides, Syeda Rhaman, Oneil Spencer, Amanda Sinquimani, Leticia Lopez and Daniel Martinez are all graduating ahead of schedule.
Today marks the start of a series of stories about outstanding graduates of the Class of 2018.
When she was a freshman, Amanda Sinquimani says she envisioned a bleak future for herself.
“I just wanted to drop out of school,” she said. “I had a lot of challenging things going on in my life. I didn’t think there was anyone out there who cared, and so I didn’t care.”
A senior this year at Walt Whitman Continuation High School, Amanda not only earned her diploma ahead of schedule, she is on the fast-track to college. She has been earning her associate’s degree through dual-enrollment at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and is set to transfer to Cal State L.A., where she plans to earn her nursing degree.
“I came to Whitman, and I found a family here,” she said. “I found adults who cared about me, understood what I was going through and didn’t judge me. They helped give me the strength and ability – not only to help myself get on track – but to encourage others to do so as well.”
Like the 40 other continuation high schools in L.A. Unified, Whitman offers an educational alternative for students who need unique supports to get and stay on track to graduate.
“While every student has a unique story, the common thread they have is credit deficiency,” said Claudia Middleton, who is in her second year as principal at the Fairfax District campus. “What we do is evaluate every situation individually and develop a support plan to get them on pace to graduate, with clear goals for their lives after high school.”
Students are referred to a continuation high school by a dean or counselor at their home school if they appear to be at risk of not meeting graduation requirements. Middleton says the key is working closely with the students and parents to create an action plan for getting the student back on track.
“We make it clear to every student that we are committed to their education,” she said. “Now, it’s essential for the student – and their family – to do their part, as well, to ensure success.”
Middleton and her team aim to keep students focused on their goals. A chart in the main office shows each student’s progress toward meeting the District’s graduation requirements, which includes the completion of the rigorous A-G curriculum.
“We provide enrichment programs, tutoring and other intervention programs beyond the classroom so every student can receive what he or she needs,” she said. “For instance, we have a sociology class from West Los Angeles College. A professor comes here to the campus to provide the class.”
Whitman student Manuel Vides has already fulfilled his graduation requirements but is still attending Whitman so he can take advantage of the sociology class and earn community college credits.
“I graduated just before spring break,” he said. “I’m really happy Whitman helped me meet my graduation goals ahead of schedule. Now I’m already moving ahead quickly with my college-going experience.”
Like Sinquimani, Vides formerly attended nearby Fairfax High and came to Whitman seeking an educational environment better suited to his needs. Both completed gradation requirements ahead of schedule and are enrolled in the nursing program at LA Trade Tech.
Their experiences are not uncommon.
Students Daniel Martinez and Leticia Lopez were a couple at Fairfax before enrolling together at Whitman.
“I was having a rough time, because I love to play soccer, but I didn’t qualify for the team because my grades were suffering,” Martinez said. “When I met Ms. Middleton, it made a huge difference. She was really nice and supportive. And, she let me and Leticia enroll here together, which was great because we’re still able to see each other every day and support each other.”
Martinez said he was concerned about attending a school that was too small to offer a sports program but then was pleasantly surprised.
“I made a lot of friends here quickly, and we discovered we shared a love of soccer,” he said. “We went to talk to Ms. Middleton, and she supported us by working with the school to provide equipment and even help us set up a tournament right here at Whitman. We even got a trophy.”
Martinez and Lopez both completed their graduation requirements earlier this year – ahead of schedule. They are now enrolled in L.A. Trade Tech’s advanced transportation and manufacturing pathway.
Sinquimani said many of her Whitman classmates are finding success once they realize higher education is more attainable than they initially believed.
“A lot of students come to continuation schools having had a lot of challenges in their lives and are feeling really discouraged,” she said. “They ask, ‘Why even bother?’ But then we talk, and some take a leap of faith and just go check out a Saturday class or something and it opens their eyes. Others continue to feel discouraged, but I have faith they will come around.”
Senior Syeda Rahman says having faith has been a major part of her experience.
“My parents always taught me it’s important to have faith in myself,” she said. “But, my dad is a little old fashioned. When he found out I was enrolling in a continuation school. he was broken-hearted, feeling like I had failed. I told him it wasn’t a bad thing and asked him to have faith in me.”
Rahman’s father did come around, and the family agreed to postpone a planned move to Texas to allow her to to complete her graduation requirements.
“The reason I came to Whitman is that before I had just stopped caring about my education,” she said. “When I got here, it changed. Ms. Middleton and the teachers knew I had been slacking off but didn’t judge me for it. They just wanted to help me. I started focusing on my future and something clicked, and I started getting it all together. It was important for me to finish what I had started.”
Senior Oneil Spencer is also graduating ahead of schedule and chose to return to Fairfax High where he will walk across the stage with his classmates there.
“I am not sure yet what I will do after graduation,” he said. “But, that’s OK. The fact that I am able to graduate on schedule with my friends, showing them and my family that I could do it – that means everything.”