Desert Winds Learning Center provides instruction, hope, to students

Posted at 4:38 AM, May 12, 2017

Cracking down on dropouts and keeping kids in schools, it is a tough issue to tackle for many districts in Arizona.

The Casa Grande Union High School District is using an innovative approach and already seeing tremendous success.

Like many students who go through the Desert Winds Learning Center, Anthony Carriaga and Tonya Pablo were not sure they would make it to graduation.

“My mom, she’s like all into it,” said Carriaga, who will walk with the Class of 2017.  “She’s like ‘my baby’s gonna walk!’”

“I literally cried to one of the teachers telling them I’m not going to finish and she was like, you can do it,” said Pablo, who already graduated.

“I just cannot stomach a student who has gone to high school and who drops out and does not receive a diploma,” said Dr. Shannon Goodsell.

He implemented the learning center when he took over as the district’s superintendent about four years ago.  It pairs a computer program with classroom instruction to create an individualized graduation plan for each student.

“Every student deserves the right to a diploma and every student is different,” Goodsell said.

Originally Desert Winds was modeled after a traditional high school but that wasn’t quite working, so now it’s a “catch and release” style.  The students attend Desert Winds, get caught up, and then go back to graduate from their home high schools, either Casa Grande Union High School or Vista Grande High School.

“We’re saving a lot of kids from being dropouts and being on the streets,” said Tim Hamilton, who serves as the learning center’s director.

Last year the center celebrated 87 graduates, this year it is on track to graduate more than 100.

“So many of them have been told they are not going to make it, or they are not going to be worth anything, or you can’t do it,” said Hamilton, “but they see they can do it, they can be successful.”