REACHING THE GOAL: Ombudsman grads show they didn’t quit (Grand Island, Neb.)

Date: May 20, 2014

Written by Conor Dunn

The Grand Island Independent

Posted: Monday, May 19, 2014 10:29 pm

By Conor Dunn

After walking across the stage, graduate Nadia Hi (left) feeds her 3-week-old son, Oliver Flatness, on Monday afternoon during graduation ceremonies at the Grand Island Ombudsman Center.   (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

After walking across the stage, graduate Nadia Hi (left) feeds her 3-week-old son, Oliver Flatness, on Monday afternoon during graduation ceremonies at the Grand Island Ombudsman Center. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

Jocelyn Avila threw her arms over her father’s shoulders at the Grand Island Ombudsman graduation on Monday, embracing him as tears fell from behind her glasses.

“Freshman year, I didn’t think I’d end up here, but it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” Avila said.

She was one of 27 students adorned in purple robes who graduated from Ombudsman, making her part of the largest graduating class Ombudsman has had since its start in Grand Island in 2010.
Avila also received this graduating class’s President’s Award for Educational Excellence and gave one of the commencement speeches to an audience of about 175 that included her fellow graduates, their parents, family and friends.

Other award winners were Marisela Martinez-Dominguez, who won the President’s Award for Educational Achievement, and Rodolfo Montanez-Baland, who received the American Citizenship Pin.

After three years of attending Grand Island Senior High, Avila said, she needed a change in the way she received her education. When she enrolled in Ombudsman’s 18-week session, she said, all she wanted to do was get her work done, and Ombudsman allowed her to do that. No physical education class, no music, no cafeteria lunch, no drama — just class work.

At Ombudsman, the students attend school in the morning or the afternoon for about four to five hours. They work on daily computer assignments in all general learning areas, such as mathematics, history and science. The only classes Ombudsman doesn’t offer are foreign language and home economics.

The students receive a syllabus for each class they need to take at the beginning of the session. To graduate, they need to have all assignments complete.

Because of its “go-at-your-own-pace” structure, Avila said, she completed her senior year in two months. Although she said she could have enrolled in the Ombudsman program and graduated sooner, she wanted to graduate with her fellow classmates at Ombudsman, who were the same students she attended school with at Grand Island Senior High.

“We all had some kind of connection,” she said.

Some of the graduates began attending Ombudsman in eighth grade, said Grand Island Ombudsman Center Director Linda Sanders. The younger students are asked to attend high school at least once, she said. But even after attending high school, these students go back to Ombudsman.

“A lot of these kids realize the smaller environment works way better for them,” Sanders said.

Some misconceptions surround the work of Ombudsman students, the usual misconception being that the work is easy, she said.

“They think that this school is easy, but that’s not true,” Sanders said. “Every year it gets a little harder for them.”

Another misconception is that the students have behavioral problems or “are not nice,” she said. But there is never a day when Sanders feels unsafe. She said she knows each of the students has her back and she has theirs.

Before handing each graduate his or her diploma, Sanders took a moment to give personalized send-offs about each graduate.

Some of the graduates, she said, she would remember for their smiles, despite the hardships they’ve faced. With others she joked about how she’d miss receiving their daily phone calls telling her they’d be “just a little bit late” to class.

While many of the graduates will go directly into the workforce, some have their sights set on college, such as Avila, who has been accepted by the Art Institute of Colorado.

She said she plans to study photography and open her own studio one day. Her favorite photos to shoot are portraits of people and landscapes, and she said she’d be interested to take photos of celebrities marketing products such as perfume.

Inside each of the graduates’ envelopes, Sanders placed a poem to remind them to never give up.
“You didn’t quit then,” she said. “Don’t start quitting now.”

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