From credit recovery to top of her class, Amistad student discovers artistic talent and sets surprising career goal

Photos of Ciera Pena, her artwork, and receiving Top Scholar Award from Dr. Judy D. White

Student Ciera Pena from Amistad High School in the Desert Sands Unified School District received a Top Scholar honor from Judy D. White, Ed.D., Riverside County Superintendent of Schools.

Amistad High School student Ciera Pena has always carried with her a specific motivation for achieving success. Ciera’s parents didn’t graduate from high school, and based on their experience, Ciera has been determined to do the opposite.

But it hasn’t been easy. Ciera’s journey to success has not followed a typical path for a graduating high school senior, but her determination and focus has this Top Scholar ready to receive her diploma and get started on reaching her next goal.

At the end of Ciera’s first semester of freshman year, she had zero credits.

“I just didn’t go to school,” she admits. By sophomore year, Ciera faced a heavy load of credits to make up. Through a home school program, she was able to earn 90 units, but before her junior year, Ciera’s trajectory changed.

“My father mentioned a school he had attended during his troubled high school years, Amistad High School.” Ciera decided to give it a try.

Amistad High School was founded in the 1970’s as Desert Sands Unified School District’s only continuation high school. It was originally operated as an evening only program, and the location of the school continued to change to keep up with the growing student population. While Ciera’s father may have attended one of several locations, by the time Ciera arrived at Amistad, the school had moved into a brand new state of the art facility (opened in 2013) that accommodates a traditional high school schedule and a competency-based program that enables students to earn credits at their own pace.

After spending a year away from a traditional high school campus, Ciera was anxious on her first day at Amistad, “I was nervous, but the teachers were nice and welcoming, and the small size of the school made it easier.” It didn’t take long for Ciera to feel comfortable back in high school. Ciera credits the teachers at Amistad for making a difference in her education, “they always come and help, and I can really connect with them.”

Ciera also found another connection to school through the elective courses offered at Amistad. Ciera discovered a love for ceramics and drawing, and has become an accomplished artist. In her two years at Amistad, Ciera has won ten first place finishes at the Riverside County Date Festival Junior Art competition.

In looking toward the future, Ciera is grateful for the Amistad counseling staff. The counselors helped Ciera identify a plan for after high school. Specifically, they introduced her to the Professional Pharmacy Technician program at the College of the Desert. The program introduces students to pharmacy practice settings and covers drug classes, basic physiology, drug interactions, daily pharmacy operations, and prepares them for state certification.

Although with Ciera’s strong artistic skills this career choice might seem unexpected, she explains “it is a good fit for my strong organizational skills and patience.” Ciera is particularly interested in learning about medications and how they work, and plans to use this certification program as a first step in pursuing her goal to become a Pharmacist.

Assistant Principal Sharon Hoff describes Ciera as “a truly wonderful, young lady who knows where she is headed in life.” If Ciera’s years at Amistad High School are any indication, there is no doubt her determination and focus will lead her to the fulfillment of her future goals.

As she becomes the first in her family to graduate from high school, and enjoys the honor of being the Top Scholar from Amistad High School, Ciera is clear on who ultimately gets the credit for her success, “God. Without God I wouldn’t be anything.”

But, she also cites her own determination to do the opposite of her parents.  Even when that led her down the same road as her father to Amistad High School, Ciera, along with the incredible support of her teachers and counselors, ensured she found her own path to success.