By Don Pace
Las Vegas Optic
The last senior class of Bridge Academy’s five graduating classes have received their diplomas.
The Las Vegas City Schools board voted earlier in the year against renewing the charter school’s contract. The school was founded in 2001 by Carol Winkel and her son, Eric Winkel, and opened in 2002 for students in the 10th and 11th grades 10 and 11 and the next year, ninth through 12th grades.
The last graduation was held at Kennedy Hall on the Highlands University campus last week.
During his opening remarks, school administrator Ruben Cordova said the staff faced serious challenges over the last year, especially financial. He said it would have been easy to give up, but nobody did.
“It was a good lesson for our students also because they prevailed; they could have given up early in the year when they found out Bridge Academy was going to be closing. They could have been foolish and not taken advantage of the opportunity, but they did take advantage of the opportunities, and that’s why they are here tonight,” Cordova said.
Cordova told the graduating class and the audience that there are many things that Americans celebrate, but high school graduation is one of the most significant.
Carol Winkel said the fact that it was the closing year for Bridge Academy made the graduation ceremonies bittersweet, but believes 2008 graduating class has learned more than any previous class because the school was closing and they put their minds to learning everything they could.
“Some of the students are graduating early, which meant they doubled their workload, that’s why they’ve been struggling and working hard,” Winkel said.
With diploma in hand, Danielle Porras said, “Bridge Academy is the real reason I’m graduating, I couldn’t have done it without the people at this school. I plan to go to college and then apply for medical school.”
Graduate Josh Haggard said he has always been the odd man out because of religious, political and other reasons. “But I’ve still been fully accepted, tolerated and loved by everyone. I’m going to college but I’m not too sure what I will major in. There are too many options.”
Shayna Rose Ortiz said she’s also headed to college. “It’s been amazing to have this kind of opportunity and it’s unfortunate that the school is closing. I’ve been around the world two and half times visiting places like Morocco, Africa and Malaysia.”
Relations with the City Schools district have been contentious from the beginning.
Carol Winkle said an application was submitted to the district in September 2001 and rejected unanimously as recommended by then-Superintendent Hank Dominguez on the grounds that it would not be in the best interests of the students, the school district or the community.
Winkel said the charter was eventually accepted under duress by the board on orders by District Judge Art Encinias in May 2002.
In a letter to the community, Winkel said, “Board members told us in 2001 and 2002 that they know the community and what it needed and that it didn’t need Bridge Academy. Why then have there been a consistent 25-30 students at this school every year? Why have more than 125 students voted with their feet and not only dropped out of the school they were going to and walked in the door of Bridge Academy?”
She said her son Eric has taken a position at the University of Lahore in Pakistan. “And at this point I may just retire and read all the books I’ve been waiting to read.”