On Campus

On Campus: Davis High gives Modesto students a glimpse of future with diploma

naustin@modbee.comDecember 4, 2013 

— Graduation means more than a mortarboard to toss or a paper to frame. It is a doorway to a future, a doorway that roughly one in five teens in this area will not pass through.

This year, the Stanislaus County Office of Education revved up to get more students past the threshold. A pilot project to help at-risk students in middle grades is being funded by United Way. A Youth Mentoring Summit, convened by Sierra Vista Child and Family Services last month, offered practical advise and inspiration.

On Wednesday, Davis High held a Commit to Graduate event focused on connecting careers and college to taking that stately walk. In its fourth year, the forward-leaning “C2G” program will send its first class across the stage in May, putting its “No Empty Seats” slogan to the graduation night test.

“Down the road, there’s a huge payoff for the community for each kid that goes ahead and finishes,” said Assistant Principal Ryan Reynolds.

The one-day C2G event that Davis High pioneered in 2010 now spreads over many days. The mock graduation ceremony with inspirational speeches, a staple since the start, this year served as the fall kickoff.

Meetings with counselors to map each student’s career, college or military goal happen year-round.

“We have four-year plans, but we’re expanding that to six-year plans. They need to be thinking two years after. We’re asking them how they’re going to spend their summers – interning, volunteering?” he said.

Students hear the statistics, Reynolds said. Every diploma counts toward a higher average annual salary. Dropouts, on the other hand, have a tough time getting any job – even the military won’t take them. Graduates also generally live longer, healthier lives.

“We’re identifying students earlier now,” he said. Freshmen flunking multiple classes get a personal strategy session. “It’s so different at high school. There’s a lot less wiggle room if you fail classes. You only have four years to make it through. There’s a timeline on this and the clock is ticking,” Reynolds said. “That comes as a surprise to a lot of kids.”

Last year, floundering freshmen got a reality check. “We pulled them in the little theater and paired them with a senior who’s been there, done that,” he said. “It was interesting to hear those conversations. You see the light bulbs going on.”

Wednesday’s information fair had dozens of booths. Christina Raterman said most students stopping by the University of the Pacific table asked about science and engineering majors. Though an education at the private Stockton school comes with a higher price tag, 80percent of its students get financial aid, she said. “I tell them I went from welfare housing and food stamps. I got a UOP scholarship,” Raterman said.

Jaci Rostomily, at the Art Institutes table, said she was hearing a lot of interest in fashion, animation, game art and film careers. Culinary arts interest sizzled there and at the Institute of Technology table, where Tiffany Parker said the fast-paced program appeals to students who want to get right to work. Both offer chefs a career path, but in different ways. The Art Institutes has bachelor’s and associate degree programs, while the Institute of Technology has vocational programs.

Such distinctions came as news to many going through the booths. Some students seemed overwhelmed, such as freshman Benito Tobar. Tobar said he plans to go to college but had no clue what kind or what sort of field he might want to study. Others, such as sophomore Jose Gutierrez, knew exactly what they wanted. Gutierrez has his eye on physical therapy and sports rehabilitation.

At the Davis Public Safety Academy table, senior Sophie Perez recruited younger students for the fire training program. “I like to expect the unexpected, and I ended up really liking it – and the boys are really cute,” she said with a laugh. “That’s what I say to get the girls to sign up.”

Junior Brittany Jacobson, dressed in Sheriff’s Department khakis with “Explorer” on her shirt sleeve, said she’s heading for training to be a hostage negotiator.

Fire trainee David Beall said he’s known since he was in junior high that he wants to be a firefighter. “I know what I want to do with my life to retirement,” he said. But even if kids decide they don’t want a public safety career, he adds, “this is a great experience. This academy gives you different ways to see things. It teaches you life skills.”

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209)578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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