Laguna High School graduation

Laguna High School celebrated a boom of graduates Thursday morning, June 3, while dozens of families smiled and squinted under the high sun, flowers and balloons in hand. Some stood or sat in lawn chairs, attending the ceremony on the campus basketball courts from the other side of the fence.

Nearly three times as many students walked off campus with a diploma as last year, according to Principal Allie Greene. Roughly 60 graduates streamed down the aisle across the courts and sat masked and spaced apart before the stage.

The continuation high school of the West Sonoma County Union High School District bid its graduates farewell after a historic school year spent mostly online due to the pandemic.

The ceremony marks the end of Laguna in Sebastopol, since the district’s high school consolidation plan relocates the continuation high school onto what was historically the El Molino High School campus in Forestville.

“You are not the class of tragedy, but one of hope,” Greene told the graduates, comparing the school community to the redwood tree, in that the roots of different redwood trees weave together to keep them standing. “The bonds we form here keep us tethered, keep us afloat. This is the class of resilience,” she said.

Student speaker David Sandoval said, “This isn’t the senior year any of us were expecting, but we managed to go with the flow and push through.”

He recounted his journey from attending three different high schools his freshman year before he eventually transferred to Laguna, joking that his mom didn’t want him to go to “the bad kids’ school.”

With plans to attend college or a trade school, Sandoval said Laguna was a great opportunity for him and one he didn’t think he would have graduated high school without.

“When COVID hit, I was pretty much failing all my classes,” Cierra Rose Doeleman said. When a counselor at El Molino first suggested Doeleman go to Laguna to stabilize her academics, she said she felt put off by Laguna’s reputation, but quickly learned the notoriety was almost entirely a stereotype.

“I got here, and immediately my teachers were like what can we do to help you, how can we help you? And I was like, ‘Okay, strange, where are the drug addicts? What am I missing here?,’” she said. “And it turned out everybody had just deemed it that school because every one of the ‘bad kids’ would go to the school, but it’s not a bad school at all.”

Doeleman praised her teachers for pushing to improve their computer skills to teach students online through the pandemic and her English teacher in particular for taking the time to teach the curriculum in a way that makes sense.

Looking toward the future, she said, “I’m going to take some time off and then I might go to college. I might not, depending on finances, but I might just kind of go into the workforce and figure out where I want to go from there.”

Greene said, “I think for a lot of our kids they’re the underdogs because the entire educational system has not supported them the way that the kids need to be supported, which is why they come over to alternative education. So for a lot of our kids, it’s hugely meaningful — and our families — to get them to walk across the stage.”

This is the first year the school has held a traditional ceremony, typically honoring graduates in the quad because the graduating class has historically been much smaller, according to the principal. Last year, the school graduated 24 students, she said.

“It feels phenomenal because there were so many times this year we weren’t sure we were going to get everyone to make it, and we did,” she said, sending off almost every one of Laguna’s seniors that day.

The principal said she believes there are several reasons why this year’s graduating class was so much bigger. Its numbers stayed stable since the start of the pandemic, she said.

“I feel like it was just a really magical group of people that all came together this year,” Greene said, with a staff-wide effort to help students succeed that involved a tremendous amount of outreach and individual support.

Laguna High School hosted a grocery pickup for families every week, allowing the school to touch base with families about their students’ needs, Greene said. Meanwhile, one teacher and a counselor in particular made certain that students were in the right classes for the credits they were missing. The school also put an online credit recovery program called Edmentum into play, she said.

On Thursday, Greene gave special credit to the school’s two therapists working one-on-one to support students on the edge of not graduating to make it to the other side of their high school careers. She mentioned one counselor offered hours on weekends and met students in Guerneville as well.

(1) comment

MKH

Congratulations to all the graduates! It's inspiring to hear about such a successful year despite the very difficult learning environment. Kudos to all the students, parents, teachers and administrators. I hope the sense of accomplishment, hope and optimism continue for many years to come.

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