Defying the odds: OCDE’s alternative education program celebrates nearly 700 graduates

Language divides, homelessness, pregnancy, single parenting, and social and academic challenges are just some of the hurdles the 2021 graduating class of OCDE’s alternative education, or ACCESS, division has faced.

But navigating these obstacles — plus the stresses related to learning during a global pandemic — could not deter the department’s nearly 700 graduates from commencing toward brighter futures. And for the first time since 2019, families and friends spread out across the grass during four separate ceremonies at Mariners Church in Irvine to watch graduates achieve a monumental milestone.

College and Career Preparatory Academy kicked-off the celebrations with 125 students graduating from the year-round independent study program. Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy followed with ​96 program graduates, with 23 of those students receiving their high school diploma. Pacific Coast High School came next with 84 graduates, and ACCESS community and court schools capped off the celebrations with 377 graduates.

With more than 75 sites throughout the county, ACCESS program graduates come from many backgrounds including, students in group homes or incarcerated in institutions, students on probation or homeless, students who are parents or working full-time, students participating in homeschooling programs, and students who are referred by local school districts.

And, while each of the ACCESS program graduates has a unique story to tell, we are profiling a few standouts. Here are their personal stories.

Cadet Johnson | Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy

Sunburst Youth Academy graduate Cadet Johnson calls herself resilient and rightly so. The 18-year old student from La Puente has faced many obstacles on the journey to earning a high school diploma but wants young people to know there’s a rainbow waiting at the end of any storm you are facing.

Cadet Johnson Sunburst Youth Academy Class of 2021

The former straight-A student recalls that school didn’t get tough until entering high school.

“Growing up I was always good in school, until I got to high school and things got very tough,” said Johnson. “Seeing myself go down the way I was wasn’t entertaining or fun at all. I was lazy and depressed all the time. I didn’t see myself making it out of high school on time or even at all.”

It wasn’t until she enrolled at Sunburst that she was able to turn her life around.

“Every adult at Sunburst helped me,” she said. “They all helped me in different ways and helped me see the world a little clearer.”

After graduation, Johnson plans to attend community college for two years, then transfer to an HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) in the south and hopefully join the military.

She had this message to share with other young people that may be facing adversities and are thinking of giving up.

“I want to let people know to never give up. Life gets tough, and I know it does for sure. I want young people like me to remember that there’s a rainbow waiting at the end of any storm they are facing. They just need to be the light and shine bright enough to see that rainbow glow. You have purpose, you are worthy and you can do anything your heart desires. Hard work and dedication are key. Keep striving!”

Lexus Lomeli | College and Career Preparatory Academy

Life may have had its ups and downs for CCPA Class of 2021 graduate Lexus Lomeli, but it was the will to never give up that carried her through.

Lexus Lomeli

After losing her father at a very young age, Lomeli says it was her mother that pushed her and her 14 brothers and sisters to be better.

“Losing my dad at a young age still affects me everyday,” said Lomeli. “But my momma was the only one we could run to. She wanted us to do better in life and always pushed us. No matter what, she always taught us to show everyone that we can be better than what they may think of us.”

The road to earning a high school diploma was not an easy one, but the young mother of two children says it was “her why” that carried her through.

“My counselor once asked me ‘What is your why?’”, said Lomeli. “And well, I did this for both of my babies. My babies have never stopped me. In fact they have made me push even harder. Even with tears in my eyes, I still did it to let them know that no matter how long it takes, you have to get the job done.”

“I can’t wait to start the next chapter of my life.”

Isabella Seccia | Pacific Coast High School

At just 16 years old, Isabella Seccia could only imagine graduating high school early and beginning her college career. And, because of Pacific Coast High School, her dream has become a reality.

Isabella Seccia



Seccia recalls that throughout her entire public school career she excelled. However, she didn’t feel like she was sufficiently challenged or able to progress academically until she enrolled at PCHS.

“Pacific Coast was the only school that allowed me to be challenged by giving me the flexibility to be able to be enrolled in college classes while still in high school,” said Seccia. “I was even able to graduate high school a year early.”

Seccia is preparing to attend the University of California Irvine this fall. She plans to major in education with a minor in Spanish and hopes to one day return to PCHS and teach.

Pacific Coast High School blends traditional high school and independent study to create a format that fits the needs of many students like Seccia. She has this advice to give to students who are thinking about attending an alternative education program like PCHS:

“I would advise students to reach out to teachers and take advantage of all of the resources that are available to them. Schedule counseling sessions and student support groups to see if this type of educational setting is right for you.”

ACCESS stands for Alternative, Community and Correctional Education Schools and Services. The program serves nearly 2,500 students a year, including those who thrive in non-traditional settings, students who have encountered significant academic obstacles, and incarcerated youth. For additional information on school, sites and programs, please visit the ACCESS website