Sunburst Youth Academy cadets commence journey toward brighter futures

“You are led to the challenges in life that you are ready to overcome. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the growth, the bigger the change.”

Col. Denise Trelfa
Sunburst Youth Academy Director Col. Denise Trelfa

That’s the message Sunburst Youth Academy Director Col. Denise Trelfa delivered to cadets before retiring from a distinguished career.

On Thursday, Dec. 10 she addressed the 26th graduating class of Sunburst Youth Academy, an immersive military-style high school for at-risk youth operated by the California National Guard in partnership with OCDE.

“Your success is worthy of our honor and we celebrate each and every one of you,” said Trelfa, who continued.

When recent regional stay-at-home orders made it impossible to host an in-person graduation, cadets from Sunburst Youth Academy were honored via a special virtual graduation ceremony.

Albeit far from the traditional ceremony they had originally planned, Sunburst staff were certain to make this a special day for a very special graduating class.

During a pre-recorded ceremony, graduates were celebrated by military officers, representatives from OCDE and elected government officials who participated virtually to provide their respective congratulatory messages to cadets on starting a path toward a new life.

“Let me commend you, cadets, for your dedication and determination through these challenging times to grow as scholars, citizens and leaders, and to embrace the opportunities and challenges offered by Sunburst,” said Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares. “We are so very proud of you.”

It’s no secret that the 105 program graduates endured a five-and-a-half-month program like no other class. As we’ve previously mentioned, with an 87 percent success rate, Sunburst changes the lives of more than 200 students every year. But due to the pandemic, their ability to recruit has dwindled, with the program down to just over 100 cadets, who were unable to leave the base for the duration of their stay.

“This class did more with less. They did not leave the base and no off-base activities were permitted,” said Principal Dinah Ismail. “There were no family days, and no home passes.”

Even with all of the challenges that the pandemic and COVID-19 education model brought them, Ismail said that cadets still excelled with four years’ growth in reading and math.

“The tenacious spirit of the cadets compelled the sunburst team to rise to the challenge, ultimately exceeding our initial expectations for Class 26,” Ismail said.

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

To view the full commencement ceremony for the Sunburst Youth Academy Class 26, please click on the link below.