ONTARIO — Tuesday evening was a special day at Four Rivers Community School as 15 eighth-graders received their graduation certificates from the Ontario K-8 dual-immersion charter school.
The event was even more significant in that it contained the first graduates who attended the school from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Graduates Briceida Martinez and Berenice Gonzalez, both 14, are two products of the 2012 class of students, and they remember when the school opened nine years ago in a much smaller building further up Southwest Fourth Avenue than the current campus.
When they first entered kindergarten, the two said, the school was really empty — it was comprised of only two grades. Now, the school has about 250 students who come from varying backgrounds; when Gonzalez and Martinez were kindergarteners, for example, they spoke no English. Other students spoke no Spanish.
Now, however, all the graduates are proficient in both English and Spanish and can read and write in both languages. When students need help with their studies, Gonzalez and Martinez said, they rely on each other and the school’s teachers, who always make themselves available to the students.
“The teachers always encourage you to keep going with your education,” Gonzalez said.
Further making the school special, the girls agree, is nobody is judged based on their background, their culture, their language or color.
And Gonzalez and Martinez are both very pleased with their dual-language abilities, adding they can only add to their future opportunities beyond high school.
And even though the two will be entering a new phase of their education next year, with Gonzalez attending Nyssa High School and Martinez attending Ontario, they said they feel prepared and are excited. The biggest challenge, they agree, will be getting to know a much larger set of classmates than those at Four Rivers Community School.
“I think it’s going to be a little difficult because here you know everyone,” Martinez said.
“We’re like a family here at the school,” Gonzalez added. “We’re united.”
FRCS Executive Director Chelle Robins said it is as hard to see this year’s group of students graduate as it was sending off last year’s eighth-graders, the first graduating class of the school.
“I taught them actually as kindergarteners and first-graders, so it’s a little bitter sweet to let them go,” Robins said.