High school is a difficult time for many teenagers. For 17-year old Domonique Watkins, suspension from high school, abusive relationships at home, multiple foster home placements, severe depression, and thoughts of suicide are all signposts along the road of Domonique’s teenage journey.
Despite those seemingly insurmountable barriers, Domonique has turned her life around, and is still on track to graduate from high school in 2015. She is aiming for college thanks to the breadth of services and engaged staff from the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE).
“No matter what happens, I’m going to college. I have wanted to be a neurologist since the sixth grade,” Domonique adamantly declared. “A high school diploma is good, but it doesn’t get you the job you want.”
At the age of 16, Domonique found herself suspended from her home high school and assigned to a community day school operated by RCOE, the Arlington Regional Learning Center (ARLC) in Riverside. ARLC is one of seven community day schools operated by RCOE. Although each location offers different programs for at-risk students, the variety of programs and services are focused on the academic, social, and emotional well-being of students while keeping them on track to graduate from high school.
During interactions with staff members at ARLC, Domonique disclosed the abuse she was experiencing, and staff members immediately contacted the authorities. ARLC School Resource Officer and Riverside Police Department Officer Jeremy Miller suggested the “safe house” as a transitional living solution while a foster home could be arranged.
“Officer Miller is my hero. He really helped me and I’ll never forget him,” Domonique shared.
Miller remembers encouraging Domonique to do what she wanted to do with her life.
“As a police officer on the street, we deal with kids for 10-15 minutes at a time. But, here (at Arlington RLC), I get to see these students on a regular basis,” Officer Miller said. “What I’ve come to realize is that if I keep talking to them every day, they begin to realize that I’m actually a person who is there for them and wants them to succeed.”
After several foster family transitions, Domonique is now thriving as a student at the Betty G. Gibbel Regional Learning Center in San Jacinto. She was named student of the month twice in 2014, and even kept her streak of perfect attendance alive despite a hospital stay when she wasn’t released until 2 a.m. the night before.
“I used to miss a lot of school when I was depressed. Now, I know that even teachers have bad days, but they still come to work and show what it means to be responsible,” Domonique said. “Plus, it was the last day of the month and I didn’t want to ruin my perfect attendance.”
Despite the trauma in her life, Domonique admits that she “loves helping people.” For nearly two years, she volunteered at a Riverside-area retirement facility to walk one day each week with a resident. She will turn 18 in the spring of 2015 and has plans to become a cadet at the Sunburst Youth Academy in Los Alamitos—a potential gateway to serving in the Armed Forces.
“(The Betty G. Gibbel Regional Learning Center) is a very nice school, and the staff here is helping me to focus on what is in front of me instead of what was in my past,” Domonique said. “Without Officer Miller, ARLC, and this school, I would be a dropout on the street and not seeing anything in my future. I’ve got to prove everybody wrong and show that I can graduate. I’m very confident that I can do it.”