Student cadets graduate from military-style program with second chance at life

  • Cadet Amanda Martinez
  • SYA Cadet Shimojyo award
  • Dinah Ismail color guard
  • Sunburst Youth Academy principal
  • Sunburst Youth Academy grads walking
  • Sunburst Youth Academy graduates
  • Sunburst Youth Academy proud parents
  • Sunburst Youth Academy graduation

For many, a second chance can be an opportunity of a lifetime.

That has been the case for Amanda Martinez, a student cadet at the Sunburst Youth Academy, who spoke in front of more than 400 people attending the commencement ceremony for the program’s 29th graduating class on June 10.

Being a graduate speaker was not something Amanda pictured for herself. Nearly six months before this day, she was skipping school and in danger of failing out of high school.

“I started prioritizing a number of things including people, but not my education,” Student Cadet Amanda Martinez said. “I believe I failed at life. In a world so big and full of opportunities, I felt alone and discouraged.”

An opportunity to enroll in the Sunburst Youth Academy was presented to Amanda and she made the decision to seize it.

Operated by the California National Guard in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education, the academy is a free residential leadership program that gives local teens who’ve faced significant obstacles a second chance at life. The academy is a five-and-a-half month, military-style program where youth can earn high school credits while developing leadership, pride, confidence and academic skills. During their time at Sunburst, cadets live on base, attend high school during the day and work on physical fitness, life skills, team-building and goal-setting activities before and after school.

Cadets attending Sunburst can earn 65 credits — comparable to a year’s worth of high school credits — and apply credits toward graduation at their home school or earn a high school diploma from Sunburst.

Located on the Joint Air Force base in Los Alamitos, Amanda and her peers between the ages of 16 to 18 focused on improving their lives.

“I decided to attend Sunburst to escape the environment and habitat that I surrounded myself with,” Amanda said. “Sunburst has changed my life in so many ways. I was given another chance to attend school on a daily basis and were surrounded by teachers and staff who were always advocating for our success.”

Last Thursday, Amanda and 95 student cadets graduated from the program. She and 15 others also earned enough credits to graduate from their respective high schools.

“Being here, I was able to process my past, the errors I committed and prepared for my future,” Amanda said. “I am now more focused on what I want and what my future will look like.”

The academy’s goal is to teach students the foundational tools and skills to achieve their full potential and return to the district of residence as motivated individuals who are on track to graduate with their high school diploma.

“The next part of your journey is just the beginning. Plan ahead and chase your goals with the same determination that you used to make it here today,” Principal Dinah Ismail said during the ceremony. “Remember, your perspective is unique, it matters and it counts. Nurture it, believe in it because we believe in you.”

A new believer in herself, Amanda announced on stage that she will be pursuing her dreams of becoming a pediatrician.

To learn more about the process for referring a student from your district, or for additional information, please visit the Sunburst Youth Academy website.

Pathways to better futures

  • CCPA proud student
  • CCPA graduation Beckie Vern
  • CCPA graduates
  • College and Career Preparatory Academy grad
  • Beckie Gomez graduation
  • ACCESS Graduation
  • Pacific Coast High School graduation

Also graduating in June are students enrolled in OCDE’s Alternative, Community and Correctional Education Schools and Services (ACCESS) division. The program collaborates with local school districts as a continuum of services and intervention made possible through alternative educational options for about 10,000 students a year.

The division oversees the Community Home Education Program for families who choose to home-school their children, as well as OCDE’s Pacific Coast High School, which offers on-campus and online coursework for students seeking an alternative to the traditional high school experience.

The programs also include Sunburst Youth Academy and the College and Career Preparatory Academy, a charter school for young adults who need to complete their high school graduation requirements.

At its core, ACCESS is about credit recovery, career preparation, individualized support and creating pathways to better futures.

“Make your mistakes, but learn from them. That’s what knowing is,” ACCESS Assistant Superintendent Vern Burton said. “You know you’re going to make mistakes, you know that you’re going to learn from them and you’re going to do better.”

This June, the ACCESS division is celebrating with 815 students who seized their opportunities for a brighter future.