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Hard work moves them forward

Special students from a special school face new challenges.

June 23, 2011|By Megan O'Neil,
  • Brenda Duarte gets her Certificate of Culmination from school principal Charles Conrad during graduation ceremony at Tobinworld in Glendale on Thursday, June 23, 2011. Twenty-four students received their High School diploma or Certificate of Culmination. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Brenda Duarte gets her Certificate of Culmination from…

A Glendale-based school that serves students with severe emotional and behavioral problems on Thursday bid farewell to its largest graduating class since its founding in 1976.

“Our students have worked so hard all these years and finally their day has come,” Tobinworld founder and director Judy Weber-Israel said. “I am very proud of all of you.”

The class of 2011 included four students upon whom were conferred high school diplomas from the school districts in their cities of residence. The graduating seniors were: Nirandon Bonnyindee, Cristian Ramos, Damion Smith and Shaddai Wade.

“These kids have a little bit more of a challenge,” said Tobinworld teacher April Medlin. “They have to struggle with personal issues and the curriculum as well. When they get to this level, they have worked twice as hard.”

An additional 19 students celebrated their culmination from Tobinworld — enrollees term out of the school at age 22. Most will proceed on to adult-appropriate programs where they will continue to master life skills.


Tobinworld provides a highly structured environment with onsite social services in order to accommodate its 300 students, all of whom have disabilities, including autism. It draws from 22 public school districts throughout Southern California.

Those earning high school diplomas will move on to community colleges and part-time jobs, said Ray Hairapatian, administrative coordinator for the school.

“It is a huge accomplishment for them because they are coming from regular public schools that they got kicked out of,” Hairapatian said. “They have had to earn milestones before they reach this point to actually earn that high school diploma. It is a big deal.”

Smith, 17, of Los Angeles, said he was sorry to say goodbye to classmates, teachers and counselors, but was excited for the next step. He plans to enroll at Los Angeles City College in the fall to study French and video game design.

“I can’t even put it into words,” Smith said. “Last night I couldn’t even sleep, I was so nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach.”

Ramos, 19, of North Hollywood, said he was ready to say farewell to the school bus and hello to adult life.

“What kept me going was me finally moving on to college,” Ramos said.

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