Story and photos by Karette Fussell, PIO
Ventura Youth Correctional Facility

Staff and students alike celebrated the thrill of achievement at a Mary B. Perry High School graduation ceremony inside Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) June 16.

In all, 50 youth graduated, 28 with high school diplomas and 22 with General Educational Development (GED) certificates.

VYCF is part of CDCR’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), where the primary focus is rehabilitation, education, positive reinforcement, evidence based treatment modalities, cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma informed interventions, re-entry planning, family re-unification and the reduction of recidivism.

“Rehabilitation and the reduction in recidivism remain our top priority and education is one of the most effective protective factors in helping our youth make a successful transition back into the community,” VYCF superintendent Maria Soria Harper said.

This year’s theme at Mary B. Perry High School was “Soaring To Success Through Education,” and 17-year-old valedictorian Matthew Warner was able to land his high school diploma with hard work and dedication. He shared that his mother was a great inspiration for him.

“The only reason I graduated is because of her, even though I messed up and hurt her,” Warner admitted. “She was always there for me, especially when I needed her the most.”

Sandra Warner, Matthew’s mother, hugged her son after the ceremony, exclaiming how proud she was and how he has grown seven inches since she saw him last.

“He is handsome and brilliant,” she said proudly. “He is my baby.”

“The ceremony is nice,” graduate Brandon added. “In juvenile hall they do not have anything like this. I completed a big accomplishment, I graduated.

“It means a lot to me. I’m going to further my interest in fashion design and business.”

Brandon’s aunt made the trek from Oakland to watch her nephew graduate.

“It means a lot for him to be in a facility like this and to be able to graduate,” she said. “It’s important for him to know he has our support.”

This event was all about family.

Gloria Ramirez, mother of graduate Brian Fragoso, talked of the excitement students felt during the ceremony, comparing it to a ceremony on the outside.

“I appreciate the program here,” she said. “They are keeping him focused in realizing without that paper, he can’t do anything.

“I like the ceremony, it motivates the kids.

“To me it feels like I accomplished a goal,” Fragoso added. “It was a hard struggle and I’m proud of myself. It was hard to get a diploma on the streets but we did it here.”

VYCF’s youngest graduate, Nickeha, is just 16 years old. She was surrounded by family members, including her little sister.

“I feel amazing, I’m an example for my little sister,” Nickeha said. “My mom is a single mother. Nobody on my father’s side has graduated. On my mother’s side, I’m the second person to graduate at 16 years old.

“Ms. Mann is my favorite teacher. She is strong and dedicated. She’d stay after hours just to make sure I made it.”

“I’m very proud of my child’s accomplishments at 16 years old,” Nickeha’s mother added. “Keep making a way for uplifting them and always giving them hope. I’m proud of this facility and for this day.

“Thank you on behalf of me and my child.”