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Ceres academy hosts drive-up ceremony
Adrian Villa
Eighth-grader Adrian Villa of Tactical Character Academy in Ceres disregarded social distancing during the drive-up graduation ceremony last week to give a hug to a favorite staff member. The school gave out its diplomas at a Thursday afternoon ceremonyt. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Eighth-graders and seniors at the John B. Allard School and Tactical Character Academy in Ceres picked up their diplomas in a “pick up ceremony” held Thursday afternoon in the Mitchell Road parking lot.

It was a handful of schools operated by the Stanislaus County Office of Education that substituted a traditional graduation event for a low-key drive-through experience. School officials tried to make students feel special during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown with balloons and PA announcements but the seconds-long experience were a bit anticlimactic.

About 15 staff members – spaced feet apart and wearing rubber gloves and some with face masks – handed diplomas to students as they sat in their car from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. A few disregarded social distancing and got out of their vehicles to hug staff or take selfies. Graduating eighth-grader Adrian Villa hugged at least one teacher while Hannya Naranjo decided to take selfies with others with her cell phone.

“We wanted to make sure they feel something was done to promote them,” said Principal Marcelo Briones.

A message in the graduation program from Briones to his students read, in part: “During this COVID-19 distance learning, you have shown the world that you are the epitome of resilience. Congratulations to all of you for keeping course and for not giving up even when times are tough. May this resilience propel you to great success and may your dreams be accomplished.”

A similar ceremony was conducted Thursday at Valley Charter High School on Campus Way in Modesto. The Stanislaus Military Academy in Empire held a roll-up diploma event on May 19.

Students attending the Allard Tactical Character Academy come from all over the county, including Ceres, Modesto, Turlock and Waterford. Briones said his school is not associated with any branch of the military but does have former military personnel as trainers. 

“Our goal is not to put them in the military but to teach the core values to make them successful adults,” said Briones.

He estimated that only a small percentage likely end up joining the armed forces after graduation but said they are not tracked.

Teacher Greg Borgquist heralded the Ceres program as one of best.

“It engages kids like no other program in California,” he said.

The Tactical Character Academy is a middle school program that operates under the direction of the Stanislaus County Office of Education. The academy provides a highly structured classroom setting and acts as a character training center. Students wear military-like uniform in the theme of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

SCIL also offers Independent Study for grades 1-12, where students work one-on-one with their teacher, whom they meet with for a minimum of one hour per week. Students complete rigorous course in core curriculum and electives classes.

Students who attend come by one of three methods. The first is they must be referred by their home school district and as a “school of choice,” students must volunteer to attend. Parents or guardians must agree to support the Academy’s Character Program which emphasizes basic core values.

Hannya Naranjo
Hannya Naranjo decided to take selfies with Tactical Character Academy staff members like teacher Greg Borgquist during Thursday’s drive-up graduation diploma ceremony. The campus is located south of the Ceres Post Office. - photo by Jeff Benziger
Joseph Castenada
Graduating eighth-grader Joseph Castenada shakes the gloved hand of Principal Marcelo Briones when he rolled up to pick up his diploma in Ceres Thursday. - photo by Jeff Benziger