Joaquin Ramirez and Alma Lopez flourished after transferring to West Auburn High School. Both have plans for college. ROBERT WHALE, Auburn Reporter

Finding their place, finding their way at West Auburn | GREAT GRADS ’17

When Alma Lopez entered Mountainview High School as a freshman in 2013, she admits, she took nothing about the school seriously.

School, Lopez recalled, was just a joke.

“I would just get up from my desk and walk out of class, and the teacher wouldn’t say anything,” Lopez said.

That she began to hang with a crowd that didn’t care a whit about school either didn’t improve her outlook.

No surprise, that year Lopez failed all her classes but one. And the ugly prospect of flunking out, of failing to graduate from high school, began to fret her parents.

They decided to transfer her to West Auburn High School. Yes, that school, the alternative high school, the one with the rep.

“All I heard about the school was that it was for bad people, and I didn’t want that reputation for me,” Lopez said.

But from her very first day at West Auburn, actual experience proved all that bad talk a load of dingoes’ kidneys.

“My experience with the school has been great,” Lopez said this week. “If I hadn’t come to this school, I wouldn’t be graduating on time, class of 2017. I worked my butt off trying to get everything done, and the school has just been fabulous at helping me out with that. They supported me, motivated me to do everything.

“It was so different here. I felt more welcome in the classes, and the teachers actually know me. You get one-on-one conversations with the teachers so they can help you,” Lopez said.

Lopez said her original plan had been to join the Marines or the U.S. Army, but the injury she took to her knee in a recent motorcycle accident closed that avenue.

She expects to attend Highline Community College with the ultimate goal of becoming a dental assistant.

Overcoming so much

Joaquin Ramirez began his freshman year at Hazen High School but soon moved to Auburn with his family and started attending classes at Auburn Riverside High School.

A month and a half into his classes at ARHS, however, his beloved brother, Jesus, 23, was shot to death in Renton. And Joaquin, along with the rest of his family, sank into a deep depression.

It took a toll on Ramirez. He began to fail most of his classes. Many days, he stayed home to care for his grief-stricken mother.

Then one day a counselor at ARHS pulled him aside and told him about a place called West Auburn High School.

“I didn’t even know the school existed,” Ramirez said.

But he began to hear the stories.

“At Riverside, a couple of teachers told me it was a school for bad kids. I wasn’t scared to come here until they said that. But when I came here, it was nothing like they’d said,” Ramirez recalled.

Indeed, it was a revelation, of the best kind.

And he discovered a deep love for the health classes he was taking.

“This school helped me in a lot of ways. It’s kind of like a family here at the school. It’s such a small school, and there’s not that many students here, so you’re able to form bonds with teachers and students. They don’t judge you here; they don’t care about your past or what you have done. They want to help you graduate here, and they really do care about you and what you’re doing, inside and outside of school, too,” Ramirez said.

When Ramirez graduates Saturday, he’ll began working toward his certificate to become a chemical dependency professional counselor. He hopes to attend either Bellevue or Tacoma Community College.

“I want to help people with addictions,” Ramirez explained.”My family has a lot of history with drug abuse and substance abuse, and I always wanted to help them, but I was too young at the time to really understand how to help them.”

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