Kenai Alternative’s 33 graduates gathered in their own gymnasium Tuesday for an honest, encouraging send off by community members and principal Loren Reese.
Students attributed academic success to the non-judgmental and individualized education they received at the high school.
“These were the best two years of my life,” said graduating senior Annabel Mendoza, standing before the packed gym. “This school saved me.”
When she first started at Kenai Alternative, she said she was gratefully met with acceptance and a warm breakfast, which is provided by the Soldotna United Methodists Church, Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church and the River Covenant Church each week.
Part of the essential network of community partners, the church volunteers secure grant money and prepare morning meals at the school, Reese said.
Addressing the graduating group for a final time, Reese offered reassuring advice.
“Graduating is no longer a distant reality,” Reese said. “You will be leaving here as adults. There are no doubt challenges ahead, but meet them straight on with your head held high and your eyes in front of you.”
The diploma the students received Tuesday is no different than that passed out at any other Kenai Peninsula Borough School District high school commencement ceremony, Reese said. They have met all state and school district standards, he said.
Jessica Moore said she was unsure if she would have graduated had she not attended Kenai Alternative. Two years ago, she was behind as a senior at Kenai Central High School and was unable to graduate. The following year she started at the alternative school.
“It took me a really long time so I am glad it’s finally over,” Moore said. “This school helped me out a lot.”
Moore was able to take her daughter Emilia Moore to class with her.
Her classmates were supportive of having her baby in the classroom, and if she got fussy, would even help take care of her, Moore said.
Madeline MacElrea is another teen mother that attended the high school. She said she had been to multiple other local high schools and Kenai Alternative was the first place she ever felt at home.
“The teachers are great. They care about each individual,” MacElrea said. “I would recommend everyone go to this school.”
Raven Willoya-Williams spent three years at Kenai Alternative.
At Kenai Central High School she was struggling academically and skipped class frequently.
Willoya-Williams said once she came to Kenai Alternative she changed. She said the educators and administration spoke to her about her attendance like an adult and held her accountable for being present in the classroom.
“I matured a lot,” Willoya-Williams said.
“It wasn’t why I went— it was more why I stayed. It was a different atmosphere at it’s a good place to go to school.”
Willoya-Williams said the teachers met and worked with everyone at the level they were at.
Nicholas Bowen said his time at Kenai Alternative turned out to be the second chance he needed.
He was also behind at Kenai Central High School and didn’t expect to graduate on time.
“The teachers stayed on my case and made sure I got my work done after school,” Bowen said.
The teachers and staff at Kenai Alternative connect with students on a different level, Bowen said. They are not as serious and open to each individual student’s needs, he said.
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