By Melissa Flores – Staff Writer
– Six graduates of the South County Post Senior Program gathered
with friends and family at Jardine’s restaurant in San Juan
Bautista to celebrate the accomplishments of a small group of
students who have overcome major obstacles.
By Melissa Flores – Staff Writer
Gilroy – Six graduates of the South County Post Senior Program gathered with friends and family at Jardine’s restaurant in San Juan Bautista to celebrate the accomplishments of a small group of students who have overcome major obstacles.
The graduates included: Rebeca Arias, Dale Holley, Brenda Machuca, Cipriano Ponce, Jesus Serrato and Arthur Vasquez.
Each student has been involved with SCPS for two to four years. The program works with mentally disabled students 18 to 21 and teaches life skills such as maintaining a bank account, preparing food and even how to ask someone out on a date.
After dinner, teacher Steve Fortino invited each student up on stage and interviewed them about their favorite parts of the past year. The evening turned into a roast of the students as funny events were recalled.
Just hours before the Thursday evening ceremony, Cipriano Ponce, 22, said he wasn’t sure what he would say when his chance to get up on stage came.
“I don’t know. Sometimes you get nervous,” he said.
Fortino guided Ponce at the beginning of his turn on stage and soon the student was recalling his best times in the program and bantering with his teacher. Ponce’s family and his girlfriend, Selina Corona, a 2004 graduate of SCPS, laughed along.
“Actually, he started ripping on me and teasing me,” Fortino said with a laugh.
Ponce had mixed feelings about moving on from the program.
“I’m gonna miss them all,” Ponce said. He will miss eating out with classmates and teachers. And even meal times taught him lessons.
“Steve taught me how to be polite,” Ponce said.
In his three years in the program, Ponce received job training, learned how to bowl and even met his girlfriend Selina. His most enjoyable job was at the Second Chance Ranch in Morgan Hill, where he worked until the ranch was sold in 2004. He enjoyed riding around in a golf cart at the ranch and working with the horses.
“It was my favorite work site because I used to call Steve and stay over there after school,” Ponce said. “I helped them at night to feed horses.”
During his years at SCPS, Ponce had a chance to try out sports from bowling to golf to archery. He said archery is his favorite.
Though he will miss school, he is excited about looking for a job.
“Maybe I will try to work with my dad at his company,” Ponce said. “He’s a truck driver. Maybe I can get the job washing the trucks.”
He added with a laugh, “I could even wash the boss’ truck.”
Another memorable graduate speech came from Dale Holley who used his friendly personality to talk a local florist into giving him a free corsage for his prom date. Fortino made Holley, who has a job at a local grocery store, pay for the $25 corsage and apologize. In his apology, Holley said he knew better than to take something he hadn’t paid for and he was raised better than that.
The same personality that helped Holley talk his way into free flowers, also has helped him get a job. Holley has been working at the Grocery Outlet in Gilroy through SCPS and the store owner has offered him a permanent position.
“I can’t say enough about Dale,” store owner Greg Balch said. “He has a lot of motivation. He’s always coming to work in twice a good mood as anyone else.”
Holley is the first student the store has hired after graduation and he will continue to work bagging groceries, collecting carts and straightening the store.
The South County Post Senior program started in 1999 and is run by the Santa Clara County Office of Education. It was one of the first programs of its kind in California, according to Fortino, who has worked with it since it started.
Fortino said the program is a blessing to many of the students who have struggled with the academic tasks required in other school programs.
“At the age they are at, I try to bring them as far as possible to give them an opportunity to achieve as much as they can as they move forward,” Fortino said.
“This program goes from the kind of stuff they don’t do so well like book reading, to the stuff they enjoy,” Fortino said.
The graduation is a chance for Fortino to see how far his students have come through the year.
“This is so different than your typical graduation,” Fortino said. “It’s so relaxed and it’s a lot of fun with all the family members.”
Melissa Flores is an intern, who recently graduated from the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Reach her at 842-6400, ext. 207 or [email protected]