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Monarch School celebrates graduate success stories

As families across San Diego County celebrate their graduating students this month, there is one celebration that stands out. It’s a class of just about a dozen graduates who have overcome homelessness and created true hope for their futures.

Amid the pomp and circumstance at this particular graduation ceremony was Rosario Alvarez, 18, the valedictorian of the Monarch School’s Class of 2022. “My first language is Spanish,” she said, “I (was) raised with my family, and my family’s Mexican. So I speak more Spanish.”

Rosario has learned English along with economics and engineering in the past four years with her other classmates. There were 13 seniors on the graduation stage Thursday. There was also one empty chair for student Juliana Campos, who died three years ago of the common flu. She had no health insurance.

That is a hard reality for Monarch School's graduates, who spent their high school years without stable housing, often living in a car or with family or friends.

M.G. Perez
Rosario Alvarez, 18, delivers her speech as valedictorian of the Monarch School Class of 2022, San Diego, CA, on June 9, 2022.

Alvarez crossed the border from Tijuana every school day for the past four years in order to attend classes. She worked with a school adviser to write the speech she delivered at Thursday's graduation, the words powered by her passion, and her love for her mother, a single parent who was not legally able to cross the border.

“I want to thank my mother, who has supported me, cared for me, and loved me because, for her, it was possible today. Thank you to my family, who is always willing to help me,” she said from the podium.

Monarch School has almost 300 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The curriculum includes an academic education along with programs for social and emotional growth to address the trauma of homelessness.

“Our kids, parents and caregivers come here and receive everything from clinical mental health support to social work and case management,” said Afira DeVries, the school’s CEO and president. “The housing supports we provide help them become stabilized and even includes showers and laundry facilities, everything that you could possibly expect or need in order to try to stabilize the family.”

M.G. Perez
Thirteen seniors graduated from the Monarch School on June 9. All of them plan to continue their education in the fall. Their plans include attending local community colleges, and one student will go to California State University Monterey Bay.

Most of the Monarch School graduates plan to attend local community colleges in the fall. One plans to go to Cal State University at Monterey Bay.

“Why is the butterfly the symbol of our school?,” DeVries asked. “It’s because it’s about metamorphosis, it’s about recognizing that change is inherent to life, and how you embrace change, in order to become something beautiful, is what we are here to do.”

Rosario Alvarez will be at Southwestern College in August to start an education that she hopes will lead to becoming a attorney someday. She wants to represent the homeless and give back to the community she came from.