By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
When Reyna Navarrete felt her life situations were too demanding, the 17-year-old dropped out of high school.
Her priorities shifted from doing well in school to raising her 1-year-old daughter as a single mother.
“I had to look for a job to take care of my daughter,” said Navarrete.
Behind in school and discouraged, Navarrete said she lost hope in attaining her high school diploma.
Now the sophomore is getting a second chance at a diploma through the Portales High School Night School program.
The program is a virtual school offered at no cost to students with discipline problems, social problems, those who struggle learning in a traditional classroom setting, or have difficulties attending school during regular hours.
There are about 20 students in the school’s pilot group, which started its second semester this month. Common core classes are offered through the program and meet the state Public Education Department’s standards, according to Portales schools Superintendent Johhnie Cain.
Navarrete said she had planned to get her GED certificate instead of her diploma but said she understands the value of a diploma and earning one would be much better.
She feels this program will not only get her back on track with graduating high school, but also on track with her career goal of becoming a nurse.
“It’s better for people like me that have a daughter,” Navarrete said. “I actually want to go to college. I want to be (a nurse); that was my first dream.”
The program requires students to enroll in school and log in with the program at least one hour a day to complete the 90-hour courses, according to Night School coordinator and PHS Assistant Principal Garrick Matthews.
PHS provides computer lab space four nights a week for students who need a quiet place to complete their assignments, Matthews said. The program tracks the progress of students and also gives them the opportunity to interact with certified instructors if they need help.
“It’s easy to use,” said Navarrete. “I can still work, I can still cook, I can still take care of my daughter.”
Cain has been a leader in bringing the program to PHS, initially hoping to retain students who were serving long-term suspensions.
“The other purpose is to find the kids that have not graduated and give them that opportunity,” Cain said.
Cain wants to extend the program to residents in Portales who were a few credits shy of graduating but dropped out.
Cain sees the Night School as an opportunity for the entire community.
“I don’t care if they’re 30, this program allows them to get their degree and it doesn’t disrupt their regular life,” Cain said.
Cain said he’s pleased with the pilot group of students and plans to budget more money to expand the program’s resources.
“There are kids who wouldn’t be in school at all if it wasn’t for this program,” Cain said.
Student Shayla Ornelas is one of them. The 15-year-old had personal issues with other students that she said distracted her while she was attending regular classes.
“I couldn’t focus in school,” Ornelas said.
She felt she made the best decision for her education by choosing to attend Night School.
“I can focus better with the computer, I just like to be on the computer,” said Ornelas, who wants to graduate so she can be a nurse in the U.S. Army.
Matthews said he’s seen the confidence in students grow through this program.
“This allows them to still have an education and not have to worry about being in the classroom,” Matthews said. “We’re in the people industry; kids aren’t just numbers, they’re people, they’re human beings. If we don’t find out what works for them, then we’re doing them a big disservice.”