It was a full house inside the Gavilan College Theater May 29, as Mt. Madonna Continuation High School held its annual graduation ceremony.
Proud parents, friends and family members filled the entire room, cheering on the graduating class, who were dressed in black caps and gowns as they eagerly awaited their moment to shine.
“Take a look at yourself and make a change,” said teacher Jose Franchi to his students, paraphrasing the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror.”
“In spite of all the challenges, know that you alone can make a difference,” he continued, as the crowd roared.
This year, 116 students graduated – the largest graduating class in the school’s more than 20-year history at its Hirasaki Court campus in west Gilroy.
Mt. Madonna Continuation – a school of about 300 students ages 16 to 18 – and part of the Gilroy Unified School District is dedicated to reducing the high school dropout rate, by designing a curriculum for students who are behind on school credits.
Many teens come here from traditional high schools with the hope of starting over and rebuilding their education from the ground-up.
Senior Crystal Garcia is thankful for the school and the new outlook they’ve given her.
“Falling so far behind and then going to Mt. Madonna to have the opportunity to make up the credits and to be able to finish high school… I’m not sure if I would have graduated if it wasn’t for Mt. Madonna,” she said.
The school prides itself in giving special individual attention to its students to find out exactly what is holding them back academically.
Counseling services for students deal with a wide range of issues, such as drug and alcohol use, violent behavior, gang activity, incarceration, social and emotional behaviors, limited parental support, foster care, homelessness and bipolar/manic-depressive illness, according to the school’s website.
Many students and staff credit this unique, holistic approach with contributing to the school’s increasing success rate.
Audrey Gartman, a senior and recipient of the Sean Michael Merriman Memorial Scholarship, agrees.
“The teachers here are very attentive towards their students. They have that one-on-one time that you really don’t get at bigger high schools,” Gartman said.
And that’s exactly what the school sets out to do, according to Diane Padilla, the school’s counselor.
She said she spends a considerable amount of time with students, in order to figure out exactly what they need to succeed.
“Any areas where they’ve failed, we make sure we pick up the slack and give them whatever they need,” Padilla said.
Padilla works with students to make sure they come to school every day, set and meet their goals, manage their time efficiently and learn how to build healthy relationships with fellow students and staff.
Senior Amanda Martinez, who transferred to Mt. Madonna from Christopher High last year, is a proud product of the school’s individual approach.
“Just being at this school it helps a lot, more than any other high school. They’re different. You go to a normal high school and it seems like they’re too busy for you. These teachers, they always have time,” Martinez said.
Karen Rodriguez, Martinez’s mother, said it has been a hard road for her daughter, but she is thankful for the special attention the school has given her.
“She just had to get her confidence back, and they gave her that confidence. She wanted to get back on that path, and they helped her,” she said.
Martinez, also a recipient of the Sean Michael Merriman Memorial Scholarship, doesn’t plan on stopping her education now that she’s finished high school.
“I want to be a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor and I plan to come to Gavilan to get my general education, and then transfer to San Jose State, or another university,” she said.
Although each graduate attended Mt. Madonna for many different reasons, they are united by their desire to overcome obstacles and take control of their future.
Padilla said she’s very proud of the students and hopes Mt. Madonna’s personalized technique can inspire other educators to make a difference in the lives of troubled teens and help them succeed.
“We make the student a whole. Whereas other schools maybe they just have time to address the academic part… we make sure the student is complete and find out what it is that is missing.”