Cashing in on a second chance

If Jesse Rodriguez had dropped out of high school, no one would have been surprised. Born in East Los Angeles, he moved to Glendale in his early teens and struggled at one school after another. There were suspensions, arrests and failing grades.

But then something clicked.

“One day, I just thought to myself, ‘What if I have kids one day?’” Rodriguez said. “I would like to have a family and be able to support them.”

He enrolled at Allan Daily High School — a site designed to meet the needs of struggling students —and his grades soared. In November, Rodriguez completed the remaining credits needed to earn his diploma.

And on Sunday, the 19-year-old will be among 135 graduating students recognized for their successful academic achievements at the Adelante Latinos awards assembly at Glendale Community College.

Founded in 2004 by then-Glendale Unified employee Cathie Montoro and school board member Mary Boger, Adelante Latinos strives to support and celebrate Glendale’s Latino students. In order to be recognized, a student must earn a cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.0.

The organization’s annual assembly continues to grow, organizers said. Last year it attracted a crowd of more than 300 people, mostly family members and friends of the honorees.

“Word is getting around that the Hispanics are being recognized,” said committee member Maria Leinenweber. “And that is the key: They need to be recognized and acknowledged for their achievements.”

The outgoing seniors are presented with commendations from the school district, as well as their local state and federal representatives. They are also given a chance to individually share their future plans and thank those who helped them during high school.

“Last year we had many going to very prestigious universities,” Leinenweber said. “A lot of them were the first students to go to college in their families.”

The individual stories are as diverse as the countries from which the students descend. Honoree Andrea Castillo came to the United States from Peru when she was 9 years old. Seven years later, she is graduating from Clark Magnet High School with a 4.47 grade-point average and will enroll at UCLA in the fall.

Her parents, whom she credits with motivating her to succeed, will join her Sunday.

“It makes me think that [the hard work] was worth it,” Castillo said. “I think it is a very good idea to gather around the Latino students because we are often underrepresented in universities and colleges. Doing an event like this is motivating us more and pushing us forward.”

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