Brianda Guzman had dropped out of King High School.
When she tried to make up classes at the Riverside school’s program for teen mothers, she failed. The same thing happened in the independent study program.
“I didn’t really have confidence,” the Riverside resident said.
Everything changed when she started classes with Come Back Kids, a charter school run by the Riverside County Office of Education. “One of the things that separates Come Back Kids is the teachers,” Guzman said.
They care for and inspire students who struggled before, Guzman and other recent graduates said.
|COME BACK KIDS
What: A charter school for students struggling in high school or who have dropped out. It offers a regular high school diploma.
Where: 19 locations in Riverside County
Who: Students between 16 and 24 years old
Operator: Riverside County Office of Education
Information: 1-877-RCOE-CBK or www.rcoe.us and look for the Come Back Kids Charter link
Come Back Kids began in 2008 as the county schools office’s diploma recovery program for high school dropouts. It became a charter school earlier this year.
As a charter school, the program can help any student 16 to 24, including those struggling in another high school, not just those who have already dropped out, administrator Debra Sacks said.
The age limit has also been raised from 22, which it was previously, because it is funded by the federal Workforce Investment Act, she said.
Come Back Kids now operates at 19 sites throughout Riverside County and still recruits young high school dropouts to come back to school.
That first year, 26 earned diplomas from the program. Last spring as a charter school, it graduated 280 students, including Guzman and Ashley Esquer, a 19-year-old Riverside resident.
Esquer started independent study in eighth grade instead of finishing her classes at Loma Vista Middle School in Riverside. She went to Come Back Kids instead of Norte Vista High School. An honor student, Esquer is in her second semester at Riverside City College and wants to go to law school.
Like Guzman, she praised the attention from her Come Back Kids teachers, who helped her fill out financial aid forms and qualify for priority registration at RCC, where she is in a law club.
Students work one-on one with a teacher, who builds a relationship, gets to know their interests and helps them set education and career goals. They teach confidence by successfully completing each step, Sacks said.
Come Back Kids 2011 graduate Jaime Quinonez said he didn’t have enough credits to graduate from Temecula Valley High School with his classmates.
His mother, Maritza Quinonez, said he tried hard to catch up his senior year but couldn’t. As a secretary at the county schools office, she had heard about Come Back Kids and suggested it to her son.
Jaime said his Come Back Kids teacher Dyan Gill invested time with him, helping him graduate with honors and be chosen as a speaker for his graduation ceremony. In regular high school, he had grown comfortable with failure.
Jaime is now a private second class and a diesel mechanic in the Army, where he expects to be promoted soon and is applying to be a warrant officer.
“I learned not to quit,” he said. “It didn’t start when I joined the military. It started with Come Back Kids.”
The program’s advantage is that it doesn’t just offer a GED certificate but leads to a regular high school diploma, which was required before he could join the Army, he said.
Guzman, now 22, said she had dropped out of high school in her junior year.
“I wasn’t really motivated to go to high school,” she said. “Then I had my daughter and my head came out of the clouds.”
With other independent study programs, teachers would just give her assignments. When she started working with county teacher Mike Bochicchio, she said she wanted her diploma within a year, not the three years other programs told her she would need.
“It was real hard,” Guzman said. “I did it – and with a baby, too.”
She also enrolled in a vocational program through the county schools office to become a medical assistant, which led to her present job as a dental assistant. Guzman said she’s taking online classes at Moreno Valley College to prepare for classes to become a dental hygienist.
Now she recommends Come Back Kids to others and tells teens to stay in school.
“It’s what I tell a lot of people now,” Guzman said. “You’re going to regret not going to high school.”
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