How many high schools can boast that its entire graduating class will go to college, a vocational school or the military after commencement?
At least one can: West Sacramento Early College Prep Charter School, which awarded diplomas to its first graduating class Sunday at Freeborn Hall at the University of California, Davis.
"This is truly a phenomenal day," said Harold Levine, board president for the school.
"We wish our graduates the heartiest congratulations. What a job well done."
All 32 graduates have plans for the fall, with students going to three campuses of the University of California (Davis, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles); California State University, Sacramento; Sacramento City College; and Cosumnes River College. Two will go to trade schools, and one is joining the U.S. Marines.
The charter school, founded in 2007 in partnership with the UC Davis School of Education, Sacramento City College and the Washington Unified School District, is composed of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Out of the graduating class, 28 speak English as a second language, 28 are from low-income families and 29 will be the first member of the family to go to college. Six are undocumented. All had joined the charter school as seventh-graders.
"We don't allow children to fall through the cracks," said Yolanda Falkenberg, principal of West Sac Prep, as the charter school is often called.
The school is small. It has a total of 171 students from sixth through 12th grade, with class sizes ranging from 20 to 35 students.
Students are encouraged to identify subjects they're interested in and learn in ways that make sense to them.
The type of support the students get from teachers, counselors and staff members was evident in students' speeches during the ceremony.
"The school became a second home for us," said Genesis Ruiz-Campos. "In traditional high schools, teachers are strangers. But here, they are our guides, our mentors and, most of all, our friends."
Another student, Monica Perez, choked up in her address to her classmates.
"West Sac Prep has not only helped us develop as students, but also as people," she said. "West Sac Prep has been this huge family."
Sunday, one of the most popular students at the graduation ceremony was valedictorian Bradly Burks-Palmer, 18, who wants to become a lawyer.
A steady stream of students, teachers and parents wanted to give him a hug or have a photo taken with him afterward. Burks-Palmer will go to UCLA in the fall and plans to major in political studies with a minor in philosophy.
During his speech, he spoke of sleeping in the park when he was 8 years old; he was homeless for several months at that age.
"There were a lot of complications with my family my mother was into drugs, my older brother was into drugs," he said after commencement.
A teacher he had at Westfield Elementary School who later joined the staff at West Sac Prep told him about the charter school.
"It made me see education differently," he said. "It wasn't something that was given to me in a school. As a student, I was giving something back."
Call The Bee's Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.