Antonio wakes up two minutes before his alarm goes off to the sound of his little sister begging for five more minutes. To his left is his younger brother, to his right the sound of running water, and just below his feet was his back pack, which he casually donned haphazardly after squeezing in a couple bites of chorizo.

It was in this apartment, amidst all the noise of his sister chatting on the phone and his younger brother whining, that he completed high school. It was the dream and determination to leave this place, the quintessential Valley apartment with its medley of brown carpeting and cottage cheese ceiling, that got him out of bed this morning and many mornings prior.

Being that Antonio was the oldest son in the house he ended up filling the role of the head man of the house, a role that many young men of single mothers get pigeon-holed into. Antonio recently acquired a learner’s permit. Stretching the limits of what he was permitted, he drove his uncle’s car to help his mother with errands, picking up and dropping off his siblings.

He also had a part-time job at a local supermarket. That helped out with food and supplies for the house, and enabled him to start saving up for a car of his own. On pure perseverance and survival, he planned to take on a full-time schedule at the market when he graduated from high school.

His plans were slowly slipping farther from reality as it was recently announced that in order for Antonio to participate in graduation he had to furnish evidence of being committed to post-educational training – a university, community college, trade school or the military. Although this may further his future financial success, this policy was trampling on the family’s immediate success of seeing Antonio graduate.

Antonio’s scenario is familiar to 3,764 seniors graduating from District C of San Fernando Valley high schools. District C serves primarily middle-class and poor communities. Enforcing such a policy, which prevents students from participating in the graduation ceremony, is classist. Pursuing a post-secondary education in this country is still a luxury, and not many people can afford a college education these days.

Some believe this policy prevents students from “falling through the cracks” and increases their chances of pursuing fruitful careers. The policy can have an advantage of forcing students to look at and possibly pursue options they formerly would not have considered. However, some students are simply enrolling in courses at local community colleges with no intention of attending school at all, simply so they can walk at graduation.

As an educator in the area, I often encourage my students to explore their post-educational opportunities. I have also incorporated vocational education courses into my curriculum. My school, a non-public school in San Fernando Valley, is located at a residential treatment facility, so along with this curriculum my students are also required to participate in an Emancipation and Independent Living Program that assists them with acquiring independent living skills.

Unfortunately, few of my students meet the requirements for graduation. Of the few who do graduate, even fewer go on to college.

People often wonder why I teach with such little chance of “success.” As a teacher, it is my job to supply the students with the tools to pursue whatever it is that they want to. They are free to choose to do what they please with their education – making an educated decision, whether it leads them to college or a job.

Melissa Chadburn is an educator in Van Nuys, Calif. The author can be reached at