San Luis High School is not just a school for troubled kids.
But that perception is common, and school officials and recent graduates want to change the way Los Banos Unified School District’s continuation high school is viewed.
“The mentality is that this is a school for bad kids,” said Traci Sumner, a history, gym and geography teacher at San Luis. “Students should know this is not a dead end. That they can go anywhere and everywhere from here.”
San Luis seniors will likely remember this as they walk up to the stage to receive their diplomas Thursday during graduation. But they didn’t know it when they first arrived on campus.
Angelica Sandoval worked hard trying to graduate high school early in San Jose.
But she realized she needed more credits to graduate when her family moved to Los Banos when she was in the 10th grade. She worked hard attending San Luis High School while also taking classes at Merced College.
She will be graduating from San Luis on Thursday, but she is also graduating from the Merced College Certified Nursing Assistant program from Merced College this year.
“Those things they say about the school are not true,” Sandoval said, adding that she is continuing school to become a registered nurse. “I’m not a troubled student. I’m 18, graduating.”
San Luis was built in 1971 as a continuation school serving credit-deficient students, including those who just need an alternative educational setting.
The school enrolls up to 150 students ages 16 and up who are credit deficient, primarily juniors and seniors, Principal Chan Meas said.
It’s stories like Sandoval’s that Chan said should remind others of what an alternative learning environment can do for some students.
For Los Banos native Shaq Dixon, learning at San Luis was life-changing.
Dixon said he was “kicked out” of Los Banos High School due to low grades and bad attendance after his sophomore year, transferring to San Luis. Now, he is an accomplished chef in the Sacramento area with advanced experience in sushi.
Dixon ditched many school days with friends during his freshman and sophomore years.
“I just got into normal teenager stuff, ditch and hang out with girls, go to the skate park with buddies,” Dixon said. “School was never my strong suit.”
He didn’t like San Luis when he first started.
“I didn’t want to like it; (didn’t want) to talk to anybody,” Dixon said. “Probably midway through junior year, I started to focus and realized I could actually graduate really early.”
Dixon said it was the environment that changed his mood about the school.
“The classes were only 30 to 45 minutes long,” Dixon said. “Teachers are more simplified, to the point. And subjects doesn’t drag on and add all these different steps.”
Dixon graduated from San Luis and the LBUSD in 2011 and was awarded a scholarship by the school to help fund enrollment into The Art Institute of California in Sacramento for cooking.
Dixon eventually ended up preparing food for Lou’s Sushi in Sacramento for more than three years. He recently quit from the restaurant after management changed, but he has been interviewing for high-end hotels and other jobs.
Dixon remembered the helpful and loving attitude of the teachers at San Luis as one of the key reasons he turned his life around, including Sumner.
Sumner also is a graduate of San Luis, receiving her diploma in 1992. She went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in 1999 from CSU Stanislaus and a master’s degree in 2003. And in 2005, she finished her teaching credentials.
Sumner spent some time teaching at a community college, but came back to San Luis to help students who were in similar positions as her.
“What kind of human would I be if I don’t give back,” Sumner said.
Sumner said she was told by everyone around her she wouldn’t graduate, especially after she had her first child at the age of 16. But that just motivated her to fight for a college degree.
San Luis worked with Sumner on her schedule, helping her manage high school and a newborn.
“Traditional school is not for everyone,” Sumner said, explaining how it is hard to figure out what students are going through.
Meas said it was a combination of dedicated teachers like Sumner, an encouraging atmosphere and close knit connections that help students pursue college, vocational school and other careers at their own pace.
“For new students, I’d tell them don’t get discouraged,” Dixon said. “It’s only a different school you are going to. You just need to keep moving.”
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562