Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Graduates of Phoenix High School, Nathaniel Broome, left, and Jaime Breeland, center, of Lawrenceville celebrate concluding their spring graduation at Gwinnett Performing Arts Center in Duluth on Monday.
DULUTH -- Yaritza Mardones, a 17-year-old, found herself in a fix.
A diligent student, she was on track to graduate from high school. The birth of her baby girl, however, made it impossible to maintain her schedule of classes.
Faced with few options, the young woman turned to Phoenix High School, a non-traditional school founded 24 years ago for students in need of a more flexible schedule. The high school also provided day care so that Mardones could attend class.
Like 116 others, Mardones graduated this week from the school. Many of those students attended Monday night's graduation ceremony at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center, where students, teachers and other "Phoenixes" applauded for the up and comers as they accepted their diplomas.
Prior to the ceremony, many of the students described their decision to attend the school as one of their finer moments.
According to its website, Phoenix is "an alternative and complement to the traditional high school program ... ensuring the success of students who may be unlikely, for a variety of reasons, to reach their potential in a traditional setting"
For Destin Kleckley's money, the nontraditional school is about as good as it gets.
"It is the best school in Gwinnett County," Kleckley said. "If it hadn't been for Phoenix, I would never even have graduated."
Principal Donna Scott said Kleckley isn't alone.
"Every single student that graduates tonight was at some point in their high school career in danger of not graduating ... due to tragic circumstances and other factors," Scott said. "Their graduating was against all odds. This is incredibly special to them."
It was indeed a special day according to graduate Michael Parkinson. The young man bragged with zeal about Phoenix.
"Those other schools and student bodies can't hold a candle to what we do at Phoenix High," Parkinson said, addressing parents and his peers. "Unlike us, those other schools are full of normal people. We at Phoenix are unique. We all have a story to tell. We have all made the decision and commitment to get an education and better ourselves."
Added Parkinson: "We Phoenixes are not like those other students. We are extraordinary."
Parkinson said he never thought he would have graduated high school, but Phoenix changed his life.
Much like Parkinson, for Mardones it was a life-changing event.
"It helped me out a lot. Going to school, helping with my daughter, choosing to go to Phoenix was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I'm graduating today because of that decision."