Come Back Kids charter opens doors for Stanislaus County dropouts

naustin@modbee.comMarch 5, 2014 



    The Stanislaus County Office of Education is holding an open house for the Come Back Kids program


    2 to 5 p.m. March 13


    Mildred Perkins School, Rooms 20 and 25, 3920 Blue Bird Drive, Modesto


    From 2 to 3 p.m., there will be a Come Back Kids program orientation in Room 25. From 2 to 5 p.m., there will be a Career Technical Education workshop series open house in Room 20. For more information on the open house, call (209) 652-1252. For more information on applying to the program, call (209) 238-6500.

Magali Penaloza, 18, struggled in school, then quit her junior year to have a baby. But Tuesday she started over, signing up for a second chance at graduation through an innovative and fast-growing charter school.

“I need a diploma to do something with my life,” Penaloza said, sitting at a desk at Come Back Kids, a school run by the Stanislaus County Office of Education. The school offers drop-in scheduling and one-on-one help to get dropouts ages 16 to 23 through courses they missed or muffed the first time.

“We have to be flexible because we serve a population of kids that may be working, may have kids at home,” said teacher Frances Cuevas. The school uses funding for alternative education and job skills to provide coursework, high school exit exam prep and weekly career workshops.

“One of our goals for the program is not to just get them what they need for their diploma, but to get them into a career or further educational options,” Cuevas said. “I tell them, ‘It’s great that you’re here – you need that diploma. But it’s just the first step.’ 

Evelyn Mendoza, 18, plans to become a nurse. But as a recent immigrant, she said, she struggled with English and could not complete all the courses she needed in time to get a diploma with her class at Davis High. Now she comes three times a week to the Come Back Kids campus to work on a classroom computer and get help as needed from her teacher.

The charter has formed a partnership with the Davis High School Language Institute for new immigrants, Cuevas said, many of whom cannot get up to speed in English and subject matter to complete graduation requirements before “aging out” of traditional school. “We’re trying to make sure those kids don’t fall through the cracks,” she said. At Come Back Kids, students have four years, or until age 25, to finish.

Mendoza said she needs 90 more units to graduate. But at the rate she’s going, she will leave by December, Cuevas predicts, with 200 units completed and an alternative-education diploma in hand. Diplomas from standard high schools take 230 units. Both work for students heading to jobs, the military, community colleges or technical schools. The program is part of the county office’s “Destination Graduation” initiative.

The school, located in the back half of the closed Mildred Perkins Elementary School campus, opened its doors in the fall, expecting 25 or so students to sign up. Since August, however, 33 students have graduated, 170 are current students and an additional 30 or so have applied, Cuevas said.

It has spread to additional classrooms and now has four teachers. In the past two weeks, the program has added teacher hours at county office schools in Turlock, Patterson and Oakdale to lessen the travel time of students from those areas.

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

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