By Senior Seminar Reporter David Michael Meza
“When I came to Reid High School, I was like, wow, this is like a little jail. I don’t even want to be here,” said former Long Beach Blast student, Alex, 18, as he describes his transition from Cabrillo High to Reid High School.
Surrounded by 6-foot-chain link fencing and nestled in a modest residential area between the bustling 710 and Terminal Island freeways lies the small campus of Reid High School, where some students at risk of dropping out from traditional high school are placed in the innovative Long Beach Blast (Better Learning for All Students Today) program.
According to Kidsdata.org, Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) has seen dropout rates fall from 13.2 percent in 2010 to 10.7 percent in 2013 school year, and programs like Long Beach Blast which focus on at-risk students may contribute to these rising graduation rates. Long Beach dropout rates are slightly lower than state averages, which were 16.6 percent in 2010 and 11.4 in 2013.
The Long Beach Blast program implemented a Bridge to Success class at Reid High School in 2009, where “BLAST staff and volunteers help the students work towards their high school diploma and set goals for the future,” according to the program’s website.
The Reid High School BLAST leadership includes a program manager, Caitlin, as well as a mentor, Karena, who participants say have created a warm, upbeat, and inspiring environment. Mentors and students have requested to keep their last names omitted from this article for privacy reasons.
According to Caitlin, the three Reid Blast classes are made up of roughly 24 students each who have fallen behind in traditional high school due to a wide variety of obstacles in their lives.
“Our main goal, as mentors, is to establish a personal connection with each student to prepare them for their post-high school adventure,” Caitlin said. “I definitely think it helps that the mentors are younger than most teachers because it allows the students to let their guard down and feel more comfortable.”
Alex described his transition to Reid High School from Cabrillo High School as rough and disheartening until meeting his Blast mentors.
“I got into Blast and met Caitlin and Karena, who really helped me out and gave me the ability to look at school positively, making me realize that I could make something out of myself,” Alex said.
Alex explained that as a continuation school student he has often felt stereotyped as lazy or unproductive, a stereotype that he said overlooks the challenges he and other students who are at-risk for dropping out have had to bear. Health issues, financial burdens, and a lack of a support system are some of the factors that have contributed to the struggle to stay in school for Alex and a fellow Blast student, Luis.
Luis, 18, said grew up with entrepreneurial parents who owned multiple businesses. He excelled while attending elementary school and middle school, where he graduated from the eighth grade at the Marshall Academy of the Arts.
But once Luis got to high school at Cabrillo High School, he began falling behind in his coursework, and his grades plummeted.
Luis said his friends and teachers did not realize that his schoolwork was suffering due to his mother’s deteriorating health, which prevented her from working.
“After my mom got sick, everything went downhill,” Luis said. “I faced pressures of working to get money and there was a lot expected from me.”
While Luis struggled in school due to his mother’s failing health and the financial struggles that came along with it, Alex faced adversity for another reason.
Alex said he was unable to feel at welcome at any Long Beach school as he was forced to transfer many times due to behavioral and attendance problems. This led him to the conclusion that he could learn more on the streets than he could in school, a perspective that changed once he became part of the Blast program.
“[Blast mentors] helped me fill out my FAFSA and actually got me really excited for college, which was something that I had never [felt] before,” said Alex.
Now Luis plans to attend Long Beach City College before transferring to San Francisco State University, where he would like to major in Business.
Alex is no longer a part of the Blast program, but continues to go back and visit his former classroom. For now, he is “trying my hardest to graduate so that I can show my mom that I made something for myself. I want to make her proud.”