In December 2021, Marjorie Martinez, 17, a senior at Boyle Heights High School (BHHS), became the first student from the continuation school to complete the A-G subject requirement, making her eligible for admission into the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. Continuation schools provide students who have not graduated high school, for personal or academic reasons, an opportunity to continue their studies. The A-G requirements refer to seven high school subject areas in which students need to earn at least a “C” grade to be eligible to apply to a UC and CSU school. The subjects range from mathematics and English to visual and performing arts.
Originally from El Salvador, Martinez said she previously studied at two high schools before settling at BHHS.
“I was in Van Nuys High School, in the Valley, and I was doing really bad with everything, having some family issues,” Martinez said. “I moved with my mum here to LA, and my home school here was Mendez [High School], so I went there, and it wasn’t getting better.”
Rebecca Carriaga was Martinez’s 11th grade American Literature teacher from Mendez High School (MHS) during the 2019–2020 school year. Carriaga said that when the school moved to virtual instruction because of the pandemic, Martinez would sometimes miss class sessions and schoolwork.
“When she was absent, it was disappointing, when she came in, it made me feel good,” Carriaga said. “She has this receptivity and curiosity in class.”
According to Elsa Montiel, Martinez’s English teacher at BHHS, Martinez transferred to the school in Fall 2020. Martinez said her circumstances started to improve when she arrived.
“Before we were very low-income — my parents couldn’t even buy me school materials or a school uniform,” Martinez said. “But my situation thankfully got better. When I moved to Boyle Heights High School, the faculty and staff would be like, ‘If you don’t have this, we can provide it for you.’ That helped me a lot.”
Montiel said Martinez has been very dedicated in her classroom since she came to BHHS.
“Marjorie was hardly absent, she enjoyed collaborating and participating with classmates. Sometimes when I call on students, they would not respond, but she was always available,” Montiel said.
BHHS is a close-knit community with 60 students, four teachers and four staff members. Martinez said she found a home there, where people know and support each other.
“If I would recommend a high school to anyone, it would actually be Boyle Heights because there, the teachers don’t make you feel stressed. Instead of ‘You have homework to do,’ they’re like, ‘Look, if you have stuff going on at home, talk to us,'” Martinez said. “We were treating each other like family.”
Alejandro Macias, principal at BHHS, said he has tried to create a school environment with high expectations and continuous support since his arrival in August 2020.
“I expect all my students to take A-G classes and work very hard and try to earn an A, or a B, or a C. No Ds, no Fs,” Macias said. “I [also] work with community partners because I understand these kids have many different needs and stories — I’ve been working with students who immigrated from Ecuador, who just experienced divorce, who experienced death from COVID.”
Macias said Martinez did not complete all of her A-G coursework at BHHS, since she had already received some credits from her previous studies at Van Nuys High School and MHS. Martinez reached out to her former teachers and asked if she could retake some of her previously failed classes to earn a passing grade that would contribute to her A-G requirements.
“Marjorie had the courage to reach out to her teachers in Van Nuys and ask, ‘I want a second chance, can I make up my biology grade?'” Macias said. “The teachers were able to come up with assignments and Marjorie filled them out, those teachers graded them and gave her a new grade.”
Macias said Martinez’s success excited not only her teachers, but also her fellow students at BHHS.
“When they come to my school they feel like, ‘I got kicked out, I’m going to a small continuation school where there are only four bungalows, my life is over,'” Macias said. “When they saw what she did, they lit up.”
Martinez said she felt very honored to be the first student to pass the A-G requirements at BHHS and is currently choosing between admissions offers from Cal State LA, Cal State Northridge, CSU Dominguez Hills and UC Merced. Martinez said she wants to major in psychology to help others who face challenges similar to her own.
“Being a psychologist is my second choice, my first is to become a clinical social worker,” Martinez said. “I went through many mental health issues. I always wanted someone to talk to, which I never had, so I want to be there for people who have similar issues or have trouble talking to a family member.”
In addition to being proud of her hard work and accomplishment, Martinez is hopeful that her achievement can inspire other students at continuation schools.
“There’s a myth that continuation students are not able to do anything in life,” Martinez said. “I want to show students, ‘Oh, people have done it before, then maybe I could do it too.'”