Record number of students graduate from the Learning Center
“We have great students who want to earn their diploma like all other high school students."
WORTHINGTON — A record number of students graduated from the Learning Center Thursday, as a group gathered to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2022.
“Truthfully, our world can be a hard place, and you have to have a good heart, and a strong mind to make it anywhere,” graduate Roxanna Esparza said in her speech to her fellow students. “And failing is so hard on some of us, and it's hard to get up, it's hard to give 100% all the time.
“But when you have people that are willing to help you, that reach out to you, that do their best despite whatever is going on in their personal life, it says something,” she continued. “It says a lot.”
Esparza was one of two student speakers at Thursday’s event. The other was Kailia Rosadakhom. Both students sought to honor the staff and teachers at the Learning Center and both looked to the future.
“With all of the ups and downs that have come along the way, we have all made it here tonight, sitting in the same room, closing off this chapter of our lives, together,” Rosadakhom said.
Because the Learning Center is so much smaller than Worthington High School, its graduation ceremonies differ from the typical, and usually feature an introduction, story or review of every student.
This year, there were 55 graduates — 42 of whom chose to participate in the ceremony — but four LC staff were still able to speak about each student briefly. They were Austin Peters-Smith, Jami Wahl, Sandy Torgerson and Caitlin Werder.
Then the two students spoke, followed by the presentation of diplomas.
Doug Brands, principal of the Learning Center, then presented the graduates to the crowd of well-wishers.
The class of 2020 did not get a graduation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brands said, and last year’s graduates had a slightly-restricted graduation ceremony. This group of students experienced the pandemic in full force, as classes became hybrid or distance learning courses and shifted.
“This group went through all of that,” Brands said, noting that some of them probably wouldn’t have landed at the Learning Center if it hadn’t been for the many disruptions of COVID. “This group lived through those three years to get to this point. Every group is unique.”
There are many misconceptions about students who attend the Learning Center, but in reality, there are three things that bring most of the students there, Brands said.
Some students are credit-deficient, which can occur for many different reasons, such as not liking school, lacking a support system or just being unable to navigate the school “system,” he explained. Other students are English learners who arrive in Worthington with a limited education and attend the Learning Center so they can pick up high school credits more quickly. And a third group of students suffers from mental health afflictions such as anxiety, which can make a large high school like WHS (with its 1,100 students) feel intimidating or even scary.
He also praised the Learning Center staff, who work hard to connect with students and show them someone is there for them.
“Sometimes that’s the first person these kids get, somebody really supporting them in that way,” Brands said. “We work hard to make those connections.”
Brands said the Learning Center’s new building has made it easier for students, too.
“Students enjoy this space and are willing to come over, where back in the old West (Elementary) building they would prefer not to come learn there,” Brands said.
Some Learning Center students work full-time jobs, putting in hours on an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift before they get to school in the morning, he pointed out.
“We have great students who want to earn their diploma like all other high
school students,” Brands added. “Their path is not as straight as many. When you think of a traditional high school graduation, these students have had more bumps and valleys in their way but this group of 55 students overcame that to earn their diploma last night.”
The students who graduated from the Learning Center on Thursday, May 26, 2022, were: Hashm Abdu, Wendy Agustin Lopez, Madison Beetner, Luis Bonilla Chicas, Bontu Buta, Calvin Castillo, Julian Caribay, Nickel Channoi, Romario Chavez Sihavong, Nyo Chaw, Kevin Chicas Ortiz, Ronal Chun Cax, Luis Coj Chingo, Wilson Coronado Lopez, Eh Ta Mu Do, Genesis Enriquez, Roxanna Esparza, Arely Flores, Giovany Flores, Mariano Flores, Erick Fuentes, Mario Hernandez, Elmer Guzman Hernandez, Esterlisa Hernandez Osorio, Friday Htoo, Almanza Hurtado, Melanie Jaimes, Jon Paul Jimenez, Tiana Khanya, Christian Lopez, Javier Lopez Lopez, Alex Lopez Mazariegos, Sophia Lowry-Ortega, Jose Lozano Hernandez, Damion Morris, Rosangela Murillo, Moise Ndayishimiye, Mariela Ortiz Morales, Erigene Palacios, Britney Phoumy Esparza, Adolfo Picornio Lopez, Malachi Price-Cummings, Ayanna Ramirez, Edenica Ramos Agustin, Alicia Reyes Reyes, Clara Rodas, Gianella Rodriguez, Kailia Rosadakhom, Jovonny Soto, Bladimir Torres, Pedro Torres, Josue Torres Reyes, Nallely Valladares Euceda, Daniel Van Westen and Adam Yackley.