For 17 years, students at El Camino High School in Ventura--part of the Ventura Unified School District--have earned their diplomas by studying independently, shunning the traditional school day because it just didn't work for a variety of reasons. About 60 of those students received their diplomas Friday.
"In public school, it's not very stimulating for someone who wants to progress in culture and education," said 18-year-old graduate Cesar Tafoya, who has studied at El Camino for five years. "This forces you to put things in your own hands. No one's doing it for you. You're doing it for yourself."
Enrollment at El Camino is voluntary, both on the part of the student and the school. There is one teacher for every eight students. Students must show proof that they spent at least 25 hours studying each week.
And if they don't earn at least a grade of C in any given class, they don't get any credit.
"I really think it represents [a] much more holistic approach to education," said teacher Mike Goldowitz. "That's not to say independent study is better than Buena or Ventura High, but for some students, it's better."
"I had to learn," said graduate Jessica Gahan, 18. "If I didn't learn, I wouldn't pass."
Graduate Rick Stier, 18, said he had a 1.67 grade point average at Buena High School before transferring to El Camino. He graduated with a 3.0 average, he said.
"It offered me individual attention," he said. "It was just mainly the one-on-one attention from the teacher."
Students attend El Camino for myriad reasons, said teacher Nancy Stout, who has been with the school since its inception in 1981.
There are teen parents, students supporting sick parents, students working full time and even students trying to nurture budding performing arts careers in Los Angeles.
Others have parents who do not want their children being exposed to gangs and drugs on the regular high school campus, while still operating more effectively on their own terms, not between rings of the school bell.
Howard Blasingame said his 17-year-old daughter, Jessica, probably would have dropped out of school had it not been for independent study at El Camino.
"She just felt totally unhappy with the structure of regular high school, totally unhappy with the social structure of the kids she was with," said Blasingame, as he followed his daughter's cap-and-gown march with his video camera. "She wanted to start in the job market and get a diploma. This way, she could do both."