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Bill Cirone: Stories of Transformation

A wonderful change takes place in lives every day at El Puente.

El Puente means “the bridge,” and the El Puente schools strive to live up to that name every day as young people facing sometimes unimaginable challenges find the support to bridge the divide between that troubled life and a more positive future, rife with possibilities.

Bill Cirone
Bill Cirone
“Their stories are tales of transformation.

Take “Eric.” His mother, a single mom, had Eric and his sister when she was very young, and raised them while struggling with addiction. Because the children were often left alone, the grandmother stepped in to help and was often the only caregiver.

Their home together was a very small dwelling, and money was extremely tight. As a result of the lack of supervision and structure at home, both brother and sister were frequently truant from school. The sister became a single mom herself at age 15, and school was simply not a priority for either sibling.

Then further tragedy struck. The mom was murdered out of state. Eric was devastated, and seeing his sister struggle with the baby made things even more difficult. He became depressed and truancy became an even more serious issue.

When Eric came to El Puente, with long, dark hair, and sadness draped around him, the staff immediately recognized that he was an extremely bright and capable young man, facing many demons. He tested extremely well — phenomenally so.

A determined teacher, one of the very many who work at El Puente schools countywide, really turned Eric around. She discovered he was an exceptional writer and worked with him in all the academic areas. She saw he needed a great deal of counseling for his depression, and recognized that with his need to work to support his sister and her baby, a program of independent study was required.

With the strength of his teacher’s support and belief in him, Eric became determined to graduate and make something of his life, knowing he would have made his mother proud. He passed the California High School Exit Exam on his first try.

On graduation day, he showed up with hair cut short and a wide smile, ready to become a full adult. His mother’s entire family and his grandmother all came to the ceremony, honoring the first person in the family to graduate from high school.

Eric received an achievement award at graduation and a scholarship from the Santa Barbara Foundation. He is now attending Santa Barbara City College, working part-time, and still staying in touch with the teacher who helped transform him in so many ways.

This is just one of the stories that unfolds every day at El Puente, the bridge.

Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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