Program’s graduates talk about reaching goals

BY ANNA BURLESON

Californian staff writer aburleson@bakersfield.com

In a flurry of green and gold, 15 eager students take their places in front of the stage where they will be handed their high school diplomas.

Some of the graduates at the Farmworker Institute for Education and Leadership Development/John Muir Charter School are smiling and some show no emotion, but for most this was their last chance to earn a diploma.

FIELD operates out of four locations in southern California, but the site in Arvin is the only one that offers a high school diploma program for students ages 18 to 25. Students can bring in credits from high schools and attend a morning or evening class to earn their diploma.

Michael Wegner, southern regional director for John Muir Charter School, attended the ceremony and said he was proud to see so many students who have worked so hard.

“In general our students are second-chance students,” Wegner said. “They are choosing to go to school as opposed to being forced to go to school by law, which is fantastic.”

This moment is especially important for 19-year-old Santos Colmenero. After going to 13 different schools in Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Omaha, Neb., he will be the first one on his father’s side of the family to graduate from high school.

“It’s been a really long, hard journey,” he said.

Colmenero has bounced from school to school because of everything from behavioral issues to his family moving. He attended Bakersfield Adult School before coming to FIELD and said his problems stemmed from large classes with little one-on-one attention.

But that all changed at FIELD.

“It was really nice to have a teacher sit down with me, and everybody helps each other out,” he said.

That sense of comradery led to the decision to go to college, even though he already has a job as a student tour guide at Tejon Ranch.

“When you come in here it’s just a friendly environment,” Colmenero said of his experience at FIELD. “This is a good place to be and a good place to learn.”

Colmenero’s mother, Margarita, attended the ceremony with other members of the family and said she was very proud. “He has a long road ahead of him but he can accomplish whatever he has in mind,” she said. Other students shared that sentiment. Jose Martinez, 23, said he has overcome many obstacles in life, but thanks to FIELD he wants to become a firefighter and one day open a drug rehabilitation center. “I want to help others and my community,” he said.