They had been preparing for a month, but it wasn't until the night of the exhibition that some of the students at 37ECB felt a little nervous.
The second floor at the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) Community School seemed to glitter with energy the morning of the cumulative event.
Teachers double-checked the displays and presentations, testing the A/V equipment to ensure everything would go smoothly for the students. About 25 students mingled in small groups rehearsing their parts in the exhibition or talking about the program.
"I feel like it needs improvement, but I did my best," said Christopher Quintero, 18.
His longtime friend and classmate William Preciado, 17, agreed. "There's just pressure with the guests. I'm scared to mess up."
Both would be performing speeches they had written to parents, friends, and invited guests such as Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold and San Diego County Board of Education President Guadalupe Gónzalez.
The dramatic readings were connected in part to the book, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Together with Words Alive, a community program, the students explored the lessons in the novel along with the questions of power and privilege.
"I am a song. I can be your cure or your torture," Quintero read. "Each time you hear me, different emotions can come to mind, even memories."
Quintero gave life to music in his speech, while Preciado performed a monologue he had written for one of the characters in the book after the character died.
Both received loud applause and cheers from the exhibition attendees, students and teachers in the room.
"I'm so impressed by these young people," Gónzalez said. "They are tackling tough topics through their education and teaching us all important lessons."
The exhibition last month also included one-on-one science presentations on DNA, engineering, endangered animals or renewable energy.
Science teacher Phil Leonelli said the students chose a topic they found interesting then practiced for about a month using academic language to explain the concept to someone else.
"It's incredible watching these students live up to the high expectations we have for them," Leonelli said.
Gothold echoed that statement saying he looked forward to seeing how these students will go on to impact their community for the better.
For Preciado and Quintero, this was one of their last hurdles before graduation. The two plan to attend San Diego Miramar College where Preciado wants to pursue criminal justice and Quintero will take courses in graphic design.
"College will be a big step. A different environment, but I think we're ready," Preciado said with calm confidence.
37ECB is a Juvenile Court and Community School designed for students who could benefit from an alternative setting and have been referred by their district or with their parent's consent, by Probation, or through a School Attendance Review Board hearing.
In the top picture, Preciado (left) and Quintero pose by one of their projects. In the second picture (from left) is 37ECB Site Administrator Gretchen Rhodes, Board President Guadalupe González, and JCCS Senior Director Bruce Petersen.