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New possibilities await grads finishing charter school in MDC

The Gordon Bernell Charter School class of 2019 toss their caps at the end of their graduation ceremony Thursday at Metropolitan Detention Center. This class is the youngest group to get diplomas from the charter school, principal Chris Cozzone says. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The Gordon Bernell Charter School class of 2019 toss their caps at the end of their graduation ceremony Thursday at Metropolitan Detention Center. This class is the youngest group to get diplomas from the charter school, principal Chris Cozzone says. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Betty Lucero traveled to Albuquerque from Colorado by bus to watch her son Daniel Lucero graduate at Metropolitan Detention Center.

bright spot“It’s a very big thing,” she said, tears forming in her eyes. “He’s one of the few high school graduates in the family now.”

It was a bit of a trek, but the beaming mom wanted to support her son.

“I just want to cry. I’m so proud,” she said.

Daniel Lucero, 30, turned his tassel along with eight other inmates Thursday morning as each earned his high school diploma.

Graduates from Gordon Bernell Charter School wear traditional caps and gowns over their orange jumpsuits for the 2019 spring graduation ceremony.

Graduates from Gordon Bernell Charter School wear traditional caps and gowns over their orange jumpsuits for the 2019 spring graduation ceremony.

The nine men – decked out in black caps and gowns with orange jumpsuits underneath – walked in front of school staff, family members and other loved ones for the Gordon Bernell Charter School graduation ceremony.

“I did it!” Lucero excitedly told the Journal.

For Lucero, getting his high school diploma once seemed a remote possibility.

“Two years ago, I didn’t think I would,” he said.

He sees Thursday’s graduation as a second chance, a restart.

His aim after he gets out of jail is to move to Colorado to be with family and possibly start an automotive detailing business.

Herbert Vicente admires the high school diploma that his son, Kevin Tom, just received Thursday at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Herbert Vicente admires the high school diploma that his son, Kevin Tom, just received Thursday at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Gordon Bernell is a charter school authorized by Albuquerque Public Schools. It offers high school education designed for adult learners, including inmates at MDC or those who were formally incarcerated.

A total of 14 students graduated from the program this spring, according to Gordon Bernell principal Chris Cozzone. The five who were not at graduation were either released or sent to prison.

Cozzone said this graduating class is particularly special.

“They range from years 18 to 37, which makes this our youngest group of graduates yet,” he said.

And he said each of the graduates has expressed interest in further education beyond high school, which is a first.

Graduate Benjamin Hinojos works off some anxiety before the Thursday graduation ceremony by braiding his tassel. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Graduate Benjamin Hinojos works off some anxiety before the Thursday graduation ceremony by braiding his tassel. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Richard Zubia Jr., 32, said he wants to eventually attend college to study computer science.

That didn’t surprise his father, Richard Zubia Sr.

“He’s so smart. He’s always been this way. At 15 or 16 we had companies recruiting him for apprenticeships,” he said.

The younger Richard said getting his high school diploma showed him that he was capable of more than he thought. But it took a lot of support from the staff and his family, he said.

“This showed that just because we make mistakes doesn’t mean people forget about us,” he said.

Richard Zubia Sr. was certainly part of that support.

“I love this kid,” he said. “His life can be a bunch of todays – a bunch of accomplishments,” he said.

Leilani Maldonado, a social worker with the program, emphasized that the grads overcame a lot to get to Thursday’s celebration.

“Whether dealing with court cases, unanswered calls by their public defenders, family issues, adverse jail culture, medical issues, no visits, no commissary, or money on their books, they continued to persevere,” she said.

The ceremony was emotional at times, but it also had a positive, forward-looking theme, as summed up by Maldonado’s reading of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Seuss.

“You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care. About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’ With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”

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