152 students graduated from online high schools in Pueblo

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Six years after crippling anxiety forced her out of a traditional school environment, Pueblo County School District 70 online graduate Megan Hardwick addressed a packed house at Pueblo Memorial Hall.

“I, eleven, wasn’t ready for public school…I would have severe panic attacks as soon as my mom left,” Hardwick said. “She should come with me to class every day and stay with me for 15 minutes. or more. My anxiety became so strong that my heart physically felt the pain.

At Pueblo D70 Online, Hardwick has become a mentor to other students with anxiety. She also took electives at Pueblo County High School and spent her senior year fully enrolled at Pueblo Community College.

She was one of 152 students from Pueblo D70 Online and Dutch Clark Digital Online from Pueblo School District 60 at the Paragon Learning Center to graduate from high school.

Sixty-six D70 online students graduated from Memorial Hall on Thursday. The following night, 86 students who had graduated from high school through programs offered by the Paragon Learning Center received their diplomas in a ceremony at Pueblo Community College.

A week early, graduation season kicked off in Pueblo with students from Dolores Huerta Preparatory High and Swallows Charter Academy receiving th

Alexia Deck wipes away tears during the District 70 Online School Opening Ceremony at Memorial Hall on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Michael Richmond was expelled from several schools before giving the high school one last try at Pueblo D70 Online.

His family members, teachers and staff members helped him deal with his emotions in healthy ways and prioritize his studies, he said.

“I learned that it was okay to ask for help,” he said. “No matter how hard life hits you, you should always take it on the chin and keep making yourself better.”

His next step will be service in the US Army, he said.

“I wanted to graduate, and I didn’t care what it took to get here”

Some Paragon students became parents in high school. Others have lost loved ones, been homeless and battled illness on their way to graduation, said Julie Shue, assistant director of the Paragon Learning Center.

Jetta Myers worked two jobs, seven days a week, to support her three-year-old son, Romeo, as she prepared for her degree. At one of her jobs, she worked nearly 60 hours a week for seven weeks.

“I didn’t realize how struggling I was until I was told I was going to graduate,” she said. “It made me realize that I had thought so much in such a short time.”

Leah Gallegos, another working mom and Paragon graduate, earned two years of high school credit in five months.

She is one of 30 Paragon graduates who will go on to college. Fifty others have received a workforce readiness certificate from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said Director Richard Mestas.

“I worked 24/7, literally. I did my homework while I was working, when I was on break, while I was feeding my daughter, and at 4 a.m. when I should have rested,” said Gallegos, who will study criminology in Colorado. State University Pueblo in the fall.

“I wanted to graduate…I didn’t care what it took to get here.”

Pueblo Chieftain reporter James Bartolo can be reached by email at [email protected]

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