Graduating senior Erika Munoz welcomed the sold-out crowd to the Monterey High School's commencement ceremony Wednesday, thanking the teachers and staff at the Burbank Unified's alternative high school who made her presence on stage possible.
Without them, Munoz said she might not have graduated, let alone further her education at Glendale Community College.
"Here, teachers are close to the students, there's friendship," she said in an interview. "I was more involved with clubs and Associated Student Body because of that."
The Class of 2010 credited teachers with their academic achievements, and teachers, in turn, credited the students for pushing themselves across the finish line.
"They work harder than they ever have in their life," said science teacher Jacke Iadanza. "They really crank it out."
In one quarter, it's typical that Monterey students earn double the credits than their peers at Burroughs or Burbank high schools. Monterey High is in session almost year-round, giving students an ability to recoup credits lost to poor choices or factors beyond their control.
"They had to be able to look at their circumstances, take them for what they are, and take what [they] wanted out of that opportunity," Principal Ann Brooks said. "This group did that."
Stephanie Windom, the school's student representative on the Burbank Unified Board of Education, said her year and a half at Monterey was formative.
"It's one of few schools in Burbank that feels like a family," she said. "In the sea of people [elsewhere], you feel alone. There's no one to tell you, 'This is what you need to do, and we're here to help you do it.'"
Nearby, Krystal Scott, a graduate, smiled and agreed.
"That's so true, everything you just said," she said.
Monterey students work in small classes and staff rely on a rewards system meant to inspire students. With each reward comes more perks and more class credit.
"We can do that because we're so small," Brooks said. "These are kids who thrived in a smaller environment and could be a big fish in a small pond."
A big pond awaited Frankie Rivera, who had 10 family members at the ceremony to celebrate her moment.
"We would've had more here if we could've gotten more tickets," said her mother, Marcy Perez.
Her younger brother Santiago Rivera, a seventh-grader at Muir Middle School, said he's learned a few things watching his sister mature.
"She's a role model," he said. "I got to see her grow up, and she's so relaxed. She's an outgoing person and that's what I love about her."
Dressed head-to-toe in black caps and gowns and red tassels, students walked calmly to their seats while dozens of digital cameras illuminated the Fletcher Jones Foundation auditorium at Woodbury University.
For Munoz and her fellow 43 classmates, Monterey lived up to its motto — a second chance for success.
"It's legit because otherwise, none of us would be graduating," she said. "I'm really grateful I got to come to this school."