Valley Oak High School, a continuation school in Napa Valley where 72 percent of students are low-income, takes in new students very often—every six weeks, says Principal Maria Cisneros. Students who fall behind at comprehensive high schools get an opportunity to graduate from Valley Oak High.
“You’re looking at [kids from] single parent homes. Parents working three or four jobs here in Napa,” Cisneros said. “These are the kids, the families that are working in the vineyards and hospitality. Some live out of town or have to move because they can no longer afford rent here [or] can’t find housing.”
When Raevan Waldon first arrived at Valley Oak High two years ago, she too was dealing with a past of living in foster care, and she was getting F’s in class.
“I always appreciate watching kids and students who have struggled but are so resilient,” said Tiffany Kuban, Valley Oak High counselor. “They don’t give up.”
As she slowly but surely got her grades up, Raevan embodied this resilient spirit.
“Even though she’s definitely had some challenges in her life, she’s not allowed that to define who she is,” said Cisneros. “I see a happy person. I see a person that’s always smiling. Very respectful.”
“When she first got here, she was, like a lot of our students, guarded and sheltered and a little lost and confused,” said teacher John Mautner. “And then, she just found herself. And she just kind of flipped the switch and thought, ‘Oh, I trust my teachers.’ She’s been an A student ever since.”
“I think when you have young people that have traveled from foster home to foster home, it’s difficult to connect,” Cisneros said. “Because you’re just waiting for the shoe to drop. ‘When am I leaving?’”
Many new Valley Oak High students can appear “battered if not broken,” but, as Mautner said, one of the differences for Raevan is that she has goals in mind.
“She’s got deadlines,” Mautner said. “The joy of seeing somebody overcome their obstacles and kind of grow into who they are. Realize their identity. She’s someone who really knows who she is. It just brings joy to see that. Because you have so many students who are trying on personas and personalities and often destructive ones. And it’s not who they are. But you can see who Raevan is when you meet her.”
Raevan has truly taken all of those challenges that she’s faced. She’s really flourished. She’s a ray of sunshine, Cisneros said.
“She is one of those young people that reminds you again what hard work looks like,” Cisneros said. “And the compassion that kids learn through this process about taking care of self. And then in turn start taking care of others. We can’t be more excited for her in her journey.”
Raevan remembers a time when she did not think she would graduate from high school.
“I’m actually kind of proud of myself,” she said. “There’s a lot of people here who do care. Even on my bad days. I kind of feel like now that I’ve found my center, I know what I’m going to do with it.”