Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

BAY AREA: Joey Travolta’s film camps for special needs students create videos for positive message campaign

Tuesday, July 19th, 2022

Two students from Class 1 of Joey Travolta’s Vallejo Film Camp hosted by Touro University of California pitch their idea to him (center in grey shirt) and teacher Roger Welch while their classmates look on and a crew from Travolta’s Inclusion Films, including cameraman Danny Sarokin (left), shoot the proceedings on Thursday, July 14, 2022. Photos by Allen D. Payton

Each class develops theme, pitches Travolta then creates a film for use by Pass It On of The Foundation for a Better Life

By Allen D. Payton

Director, actor and former special education teacher, Joey Travolta held his third of three film camps in Northern California, last week, for students between 18 and 24 years old with an intellectual disability, to create short videos for use by for their positive message campaign in theaters, as well as on TV and billboards.

Each film will be five to seven minutes long and “every story has to have the theme of kindness or doing something good, and the thought is don’t hesitate to pass it on,” Travolta explained.

According to his Inclusion Films’ website, “over the two-week session, campers work together in small groups to develop a script, act, and shoot their film with professional support and equipment. The program encourages communication, confidence, and collaboration through acting and digital filmmaking. Stay tuned for future dates & announcements.”

Joey Travolta questions the students from Class 1 pitching their film idea as teacher Roger Welch and the other students look on and cameraman Danny Sarokin shoots the scene.

Travolta and a crew from his Inclusion Films, which includes neuro diverse adults from his brick-and-mortar school in Bakersfield, were also in Antioch last year filming a brief documentary entitled “Music Heals” for the biennial Stand Down on the Delta for military veterans planned for last fall. But due to COVID, that event didn’t occur, so the film was shown during the Music Heals Concert at El Campanil Theatre earlier this month. (See related articles here, here and here

Travolta and staff are holding the latest camp last week and this week on Mare Island in Vallejo, inside the campus of Touro University of California, following camps with the same theme in Livermore, with partners Futures Explored, in Stockton with the Lodi School District and the first one in Arkansas at the end of April.

The Vallejo camp was supported by the Solano County Office of Education (SCOE) and Susan Labrecque, SCOE Senior Director, Kesha Lovett, SCOE Program Manager for Workforce Development and the entire staff from SCOE Workforce Development Department were on hand to assist the students and watch the process.

“All participants are clients of North Bay Regional Center services which is how the camp is funded, along with the Solano County Office of Education to provide youth with skills that transition into the world of work,” Labrecque explained.

The camp was divided into three groups of students and the classes were each led by a separate teacher. On Thursday, July 14, the students presented their film concepts to Travolta, with two of the classmates chosen to make the pitch.

Class 1 film pitch.

Class 1 Pitch

The first class was led by Roger Welch who’s been teaching at the camps since 2018.

“I’m a family friend and real close with Joey’s sister, Ellen,” he said. “I ran a theater company in Idaho, and she lived in the town and acted in several shows. I got to know the whole family.”

Asked how he connected with the camp Welch said, “when I left that job and was in New York at a dinner with Ellen, Joey, who I’ve known for years, and his wife Wendy, he asked me what I was doing that summer and said, ‘come work for me’ so, I did.”

“I’ve been doing professional theater and film all my life and I’m a teaching artist,” he continued. “I’ve never worked with a neuro diverse population before. But I’ve just worked with them like any other students, using improv as a teaching tool. I’ve found it very challenging but very rewarding.”

“When I’m not doing this, I’m a freelance director for theater all over the country and the director and choreographer of entertainment for the American Queen Voyages,” which is a fleet of river boats on the Mississippi and Columbia Rivers and Great Lakes.

After approval by Travolta of their film concept, students from Class 1 celebrate and congratulate each other.

Two students were chosen to pitch the film concept from their class.

“I’ve only rejected one story. So, good luck,” Travolta said to laughter from the students. He later said that was true and it was because the film’s theme was too depressing.

The first pitch was a sci fi film about friendship and involved a spaceship.

Travolta asked how much it was going to cost him.

The students suggested it could become a series.

“Have you cast this, already?” Travolta asked.

“No,” Welch said.

One of the female students then offered to be an actress in the film. Another student, Sean volunteered to be an actor for it, too.

“I don’t have any say in that,” Travolta responded.

“I don’t like it. I love it!” he then said to cheers and applause from the class.

Class 2 Student Jaylon speaks with teacher Barry Pearl before he and classmate Daniel prepare to pitch to Travolta, as they await his arrival.

Class 2 Pitch

The second class was taught by actor Barry Pearl, who portrayed the part of Doody in the movie “Grease” in which Joey’s younger brother John had the lead role playing opposite Olivia Newton John.

“It’s an amazing program,” Pearl said. “I’ve been with it for nine years.”

The Inclusion Films crew, which includes adult students Travolta’s school in Bakersfield, prepares to shoot the pitch by Class 2.

Two students in his class pitched their film ideas to him and Travolta.

“This is my third year of camp but my first pitch,” said student Jaylon. His pitch partner, Daniel said this is his third pitch.

“I hope Joey approves” he said to Barry.

Travolta then entered the room asking the students which way he should go to get to his chair.

“I’m really excited about this pitch. The first one went well,” Travolta said after he was seated.

Travolta speaks with the students from Class 2 about the film they’re pitching him and Pearl.

“The name of our film is called ‘The Kindness of the Heart’ about two students who don’t have enough money for lunch,” Daniel explained.

“Two other students raise money to help,” Jaylon shared.

Travolta asked where the film would take place. They said it will be in a school in the cafeteria and outside.

Travolta then asked a female student he named “Princess Sophia”, her thoughts.

“I think this is good, Joey Travolta,” she said.

“If Princess Sophia says it’s good, then you’re approved,” he stated to cheers from the two who pitched and the other students from the class who were sitting and watching the pitch.

Class 3 Pitch

The third class was facilitated by Jessica Saul, a teacher with Inclusion Films. Her background is in neurodiverse theater with a company based in New York and she’s working to bring them to California.

She lives in LA and works with the camps. It’s been a wonderful experience because it brings together my two passions of performing and teaching.

“I connected with Joey through an organization called RespectAbility and he was looking for another teacher and here we are,” Saul said.

The film crew and class prepared for the pitch and Travolta’s arrival.

Students Brian and Cassidy from Class 3 pitch their film concept to Travolta and teacher Jessica Saul.

When he entered the room to applause from the students, Travolta walked toward them asking “how ya doing?” He then said, “I have a question before we start” then like a big kid, turned around and asked, “does my butt make these pants look big?” to laughter from the class.

“No answer from me,” replied one student.

The two students to give the pitch, Brian and Cassidy, placed leis around Travolta’s neck saying, “Aloha”.

“The title of this film is called ‘The Competition’,” they said.

“I like that,” Travolta responded, “What kind of competition?”

“It’s in Hawaii. It’s a talent competition,” Brian explained. “Elvis needs to win the competition so he can afford to go to the Berklee School of Music.”

Each story from the classes has an antagonist.

“Mark and Charlie plan to sabotage Elvis and steal his guitar,” said Brian.

“You’re scaring me,” Travolta said.

“You’re not giving me the end, now, right? Travolta asked.

“No,” they responded, then continued explaining the storyline.

Travolta listens to a joke by one of the students in Class 3 who used a special computer to speak for him as the Inclusion Films crew shoots and his classmates listen.

“I gotta tell you, you guys have me on the edge of my seat. That’s because I have a bad back,” Travolta joked.

The students continued with their pitch.

He then asked, “Are you going to use a green screen?”

Cassidy said, “Brian is going to play Elvis.”

“What are you going to do for Hawaii?” Travolta asked.

Saul pointed to the trees outside saying, “they were inspired by the outside.”

Travolta asked, “who’s going to play Elvis?”

“Thank you very much,” Brian responded giving an elvis impression.

He then asked if Travolta wanted to hear him sing Burnin’ Love.

“I’d like that,” Travolta responded. But before he had Brian start, he asked another student to call “action”.

Brian then sang part of the song to cheers from the class, Travolta and Saul.

Travolta responded by singing, “You’re nothing but a hound dog” to laughter from the students.

“I like this a lot,” he said. “You’re utilizing the area, which is very, very practical.”

“So, I have to approve this,” Travolta stated.

As Saul led the sound of a drumroll with hands on thighs, Travolta turned and asked one of the other students for his opinion of the film idea. The student gave a loud approval.

“OK, guys, you’re approved!” Travolta exclaimed to cheers and high fives from the students.

Brian had to then chase down Travolta, who had left the class, to get the back leis which were needed as props for the film.

See video of Class 3 film pitch and approval: Joey Travolta Vallejo Film Camp Class 3 Pitch 07142022 – YouTube

Inclusion Films Crew

The film crew for the day consisted of staff of Inclusion Films some of whom were previous students in Travolta’s classes.

“I had experience in the music industry,” crew member Mobley said. “So, I stepped up and I’ve been doing sound ever since.”

Crew member Brandon said he’s a student at Inclusion Films in Bakersfield. “I’m part of the upper class,” he added.

“Often times the students get positions in the film industry, including films with John,” Pearl said.

Danny Sarokin, Travolta’s lifelong friend, and NYU film school graduate, was a cameraman at the school.

“I grew up with Joey in New Jersey,” he shared. “We were on the wrestling team. I was a freshman, and he was a senior and he kind of took me under his wing. He’s been mentoring me ever since.”

“In the mid-90’s I co-wrote a children’s film called ‘Everyone Loves Mel’ that starred Ernest Borgnine. Joey directed it and was involved in the producing of it,” said Sarokin.

“I was a camera operator on Carol of the Bells and that was a great experience,” he continued, referring to Inclusion Films’ first full-length movie. “In 2018 Joey brought me back and I’ve been working at the summer camps, as a camera man. We get to mentor the kids, and we get to pass it on.”

Sarokin works for Travolta’s school in Bakersfield, teaching screen writing by Zoom as he lives in L.A. He also filled in as an editing teacher.

“We’ve actually filmed the first script that we wrote in the class just recently,” Sarokin shared. “That one is 30 to 40 minutes long. They cut it down to 25 minutes and show it on cable. It’s called Lost Luggage.”

According to the film’s logline which provides the plot, it’s about two African American sisters who find their grandma’s diary in a hidden suitcase in the basement. Upon reading, they learn about her teen romance with a white classmate in a racially charge environment. The sisters try to reunite with this lost love.

According to a Dec. 10, 2021 report by it was filmed at McNair High School in Lodi, California last October and was created with Lodi Unified students.

“Now, they’re in preproduction on the second script we wrote in the school,” Sarokin added.

Travolta Shares About the Camps and His Organization

Travolta takes a moment for a photo with the Herald’s Administrative Assistant (and the publisher’s mother) DeeAnn Payton at the Vallejo film camp.

Following the three class pitches, Travolta took some time to answer questions, mostly asked by the Herald’s administrative assistant, DeeAnn Payton, who was also at the camp and saw the pitches of all three classes.

“Now, they actually make their films on site,” he said. “Each class will show the rough cut of their film at the camp this Friday.”

“Some of these films will be on the Pass It On website,” Travolta continued. “Then we have the big, red-carpet screening. The kids dress up in tuxedos, have limousines and they get little Academy Awards.”

That’s being planned for some time, this fall.

“The camps are for the younger ones and the location in Bakersfield is for adults,” Travolta explained. “We do the training year-round and do movies like Carol of the Bells.”

“They learn soft skills like communication,” he added.

Asked how decided to start the film school and camps, Travolta said, “I was a special ed teacher in 1973 before I got into show business. I’ve been doing this since 2006.”

He also hosts workshops for adults in San Jose, San Diego and San Bernardino with partners Options For All and in Livermore, Sacramento and Stockton with Futures Explored, as well.

“We’re getting a lot of work from the state and regional centers and every time we do a job half the crew is made up of students trained at the various workshops,” Travolta said.

They have seven brick-and-mortar studios in California each one 5,000 to 8,000 square feet in size, that operate year-round with professionals teaching.

“They’re all funded through the Regional Centers,” he said.

“Then once the students have honed their skills, they get work with one of the three production companies” – Futures, Options and Inclusion – Travolta shared.

“It’s a gift for us to work with this population and we probably get more out of it than the kids, and they get a lot out of it,” he added. “I wish I was 20 years younger.”

Travolta has lived in San Francisco since last year when he and Wendy moved up from L.A. to help take care of their grandson who is two years old.

This Friday, the students will present the rough cut of their films to Joey.

Host Touro University of California

Asked how Touro University of California’s campus was selected to host the camp, Provost Sarah Sweitzer, PhD said, “Our connection is actually through SCOE who approached us to host this fantastic camp for our young people with disabilities in Solano County. This is our first summer.”

“Our mission is to serve, lead and teach and our function is to serve as an anchor institution in the North Bay counties,” she continued. “It’s at the heart of our mission to create equity in health and education to close the opportunity gaps, especially for our underserved communities.

“We’re a graduate school for healthcare, education and public health – the heart of the pandemic,” Sweitzer stated.

According to their website Touro is America’s largest private institution of higher and professional education under Jewish auspices with over 19,000 students across 35 schools in four countries and first opened in 1971.

The California campus is a graduate school with about 1,300 students. They’re renovating building number eight and they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary, Sweitzer added.

One of the many positive PassItOn messages.

About Pass It On

According to, for 21 years, the Pass It On campaign promoting positive values has provided uplifting and encouraging messages. It is a project of The Foundation for a Better Life, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

DeeAnn Payton contributed to this report.

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Windy night for Antioch High graduation as Principal Rocha says farewell

Wednesday, June 15th, 2022

The Antioch High School Class of 2022 graduates celebrate Friday night, June 10, 2022. Photos by Allen D. Payton

Presented with “graduation diploma” by his mother, Antioch School Board Trustee Mary Rocha

Once a Panther, always a Panther” – Principal LouiRocha

The Antioch High Music Masters perform “The Star Spangled Banner”.

By Allen D. Payton

On a warm, blustery night inside Eells Stadium, the 370 Antioch High School Class of 2022 graduates celebrated each other and their principal, Louie Rocha who was honored by his mother, Antioch School Board Trustee Mary Rocha, with a retirement diploma, as he ends his 37 years in education.

Following the performance of the traditional Pomp and Circumstance by the AHS Concert Band and Orchestra under the direction of Brooke Kofford, as the graduates filed in, and the presentation of colors of the U.S. and California flags by the Marine Corps, they accompanied the Music Masters, under the direction of Sarah Phelan on The Star Spangled Banner. The Music Masters also sang “Not to Say Goodbye” and “Dry Your Tears, Afrika” to the graduating seniors.

Associated Student Body President Amirah Sam Marie Johnson welcomed her classmates, and their family and friends in the stands.

“I would like to welcome you to the commencement ceremony. I love being the center of attention,” she said with a laugh. “I kinda dreaded this day. The day we graduate. When we will have to pay our own phone bill.”

ASB President Amira Sam Marie Johnson speaks to her classmates and welcomes all to the graduation.

“Always take the time to acknowledge your accomplishments,” Johnson encouraged the graduates. “Your tolerance is what will get you through. Goodbye, Class of 2022.”

The Antioch High Concert Band and Orchestra accompany the Music Masters on several songs.

ASB Vice President and Antioch’s Youth of the Year, Giovanni Guillermo Terrones spoke next saying, “The words ‘we’ll be a fine line’ have…helped me keep going through my time at Antioch High School.”

“As the song continues, it says the words, ‘we’ll be alright’ and that’s something I believe that we will all be,” Terrones continued. “Be all proud of yourselves, guys. We got here.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22,” he said quoting the title of a song. “I want you to be proud of yourselves for everything you have accomplished.”

ASB VP Giovanni Guillermo Terrones speaks.

He spoke of his mother using Google translate to help him with his homework, translating Spanish into English and then thanked his parents. Terrones then gave part of his speech in Spanish and enough students understood to cheer.

“It is time to pursue our passions…leave a lasting impact on the world,” he implored his classmates. “To me the most profound impact we can make is by supporting and caring for others and leaving their days with a little more positivity and hope.”

Terrones then turned and took a selfie with his cell phone while his classmates cheered in the background.

“Again, congratulations. It’s been a rocky four years, but we did it,” he concluded.

Principal Louie Rocha then introduced the Salutatorian and Valedictorian.

Salutatorian Eilana Sbranti Cordova, who was also the Senior Class President spoke first, saying, “We’ve survived so much Just as we were trying to get comfortable the pandemic hit.”

Salutatorian and Senior Class President Eilana Sbranti Cordova speaks to the graduates.

“As I was…reflecting on my high school years, I was reminded of one good thing from freshman year, then another from sophomore year,” she said. “We were still able to have a fun prom…now, graduation.”

“As we take our next steps there will be hard times. But we need to focus on the good things,” Cordova said. “Hold onto the positive moments and let the negative ones go.”

“I want to give a congratulations to the Class of 2022. Just remember, we are all in this together,” she added.

Valedictorian Giselle Beatriz Cabello shared thoughts of her high school experience.

“Throughout my journey I was also able to meet new people who brought out the best in me,” she said. “I will never forget the moments I created in high school. One of these lessons, although corny as it may seem, no one can decide what you’re going to be.”

Valedictorian Giselle Beatriz Cabello speaks of her high school experience.

I want to thank my parents for always being there for me. They came here like many other parents to give me a better life,” Cabello stated.

“I believe our class has so much potential in making a positive difference in this world,” she added.

Principal Rocha then took some time to reflect on the Class of 2022 and what t

We are all back together after three years

It’s a bittersweet moment” he said, since it was his final graduation as he heads toward retirement.

“To the students who TP’d my office I did appreciate the love,” Rocha said with a laugh.

He spoke of the students and their, “dedication and commitment, but mostly their perseverance during the COVID pandemic. Their accomplishment required support from family.”

He then introduced his own mother and father, and wife of 36 years, who were all in attendance. He asked the audience to give a standing ovation to the graduates. He later asked the graduates to stand and thank their families which they did with a cheer.

Louie Rocha speaks to a graduating class of Antioch High School for the final time as principal.

AUSD Trustee Mary Rocha presents her son, AHS Principal Louie Rocha with his “retirement diploma”.

“Do not allow others to place limits on your dreams and goals,” Rocha stated. “Remember Antioch High School will always be a place you can call home. Once a Panther, always a Panther.”

He then called his mother, School Board Trustee Mary Rocha to the stage. She first spoke in Spanish to the parents then in English.

“Today we celebrate you,” Trustee Rocha said to the graduates. “To face the challenge of attending school for two years online, for doing your homework when it was so easy to stay in bed. Now, you’re on your way to fulfill your dreams and the dreams your family has for you.”

She mentioned the fact that in 1979 she presented Louie with his diploma.

“Tonight I present him with his retirement diploma,” Trustee Rocha said. “We’re very proud of you, dad and I.”

She then presented Principal Rocha with a “retirement diploma”.

AUSD Superintendent Stephanie Anello then accepted the class having completed the requirements as set forth by the Antioch School Board and the State of California.

Trustee Rocha was joined by her husband Louie, Sr., Trustee Dr. Clyde Lewis, Antioch City Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock as well as Superintendent Anello near the stage to watch the handing out of diplomas.

But unlike at the Dozier-Libbey and Deer Valley graduations, the AHS student leaders gave the graduates their diplomas.

Student body and class leaders read the graduates’ names as the diplomas are handed out.

Class President Cordova then led the tassel ceremony to conclude the proceedings. A few of the graduates tossed their caps as they all cheered along with family and friends in the stands.

Congratulations Antioch High School Class of 2022! May God bless you in your future pursuits and endeavors.

MORE PHOTOS of the AHS Class of 2022 Graduation

AHS grads enter the field in front of the scoreboard with their class year as the time and score.

At Principal Rocha’s urging, the Class of 2022 grads cheer their parents in the stands.

Graduate Anthony Walker shows what school he’s heading to on his cap as another grad shows his diploma to family in the stands.

A strong wind blows across the field while Principal Louie Rocha speaks to the graduates. AUSD Superintendent Stephanie Anello accepts the graduates.

Graduate Chelsea Silver celebrates receiving her diploma.

A grad speaks with someone in the stands. The final group of grads to receive their diplomas get a bit rowdy.

The grads celebrate following the turning of the tassels ceremony.


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Deer Valley graduates celebrate making it through their challenging final years of school

Sunday, June 12th, 2022

The Deer Valley High School Class of 2022 graduates receive their diplomas on stage during the ceremony inside Wolverine Stadium Friday morning, June 10, 2022. Photos by Allen D. Payton.

DVHS Salutatorian Ellie Yin introduces the Divine Voices to sing the National Anthem.

By Allen D. Payton

The Deer Valley High School Class of 2022 celebrated during their graduation ceremonies Friday morning, June 10, after overcoming the challenges of COVID they faced during their final school years, including remote learning, social distancing and wearing masks. The graduates were reminded of that in more than one speech that morning in their final time as students inside Wolverine Stadium.

While the audience awaited the arrival of the graduates on the field, the Deer Valley High School Band performed several songs under the leadership of Music Director Larry Widner.

Following the traditional performance of Pomp and Circumstance by the DVHS Band, and the Presentation of Colors of the U.S. and California state flags by representatives of the U.S. Marine Corps, the National Anthem was performed by the Deer Valley Divine Voices, who were introduced by Salutatorian Ellie Yin.

Senior Class President William Rogers offers a brief speech during the ceremony.

Dr. Bukky Oyebade, principal of Deer Valley High spoke about the challenges the graduates faced during COVID.

“For some just getting out of bed was very difficult,” she said to laughter. “You’re a group of young men and women who have demonstrated resilience day in and day out. Give yourselves a round of applause.”

“Don’t forget to demonstrate those skills you learned at DVHS,” Oyebade continued.  “Don’t forget to be kind to others. When others expect you to dim your light and conform to darkness, shine anyways.”

Antioch School Board Trustee Dr. Clyde Lewis reminded the class of their past while encouraging them for having what he called the “wolverine spirit”.

“The last few years have been challenging to say the least. COVID, shutdowns, economic uncertainty, and a whole lot more,” he stated. “I can only imagine what it was like trying to navigate all of those things while also planning for the future. The fact that you are here proves you have the wolverine spirit. Simply that you did not give up shows that you have the wolverine spirit. Through it all, you not only persevered, but you also thrived, which again exhibits that you have the wolverine spirit.”

Class of 2022 Valedictorian Colby Ye offers encouraging words to his fellow graduates.

“People who exhibit the wolverine spirit are typically fearless and are not intimated by anything. They are risk-takers and are so focused on their pursuits that the thought of failure does not stop them from their mission,” Lewis continued on the theme. “The wolverine spirit is bold trendsetters who go against the grain to accomplish their goals. Wolverines are never scared and are determined to attain their goals. Does this sound like anyone we know? I stand before a group of wolverines who have already shown they are tenacious enough to overcome the many twists and turns of the last few years.”

Senior Class President William Rogers offered the first student speech. Speaking of the future, he said his classmates will see “stuff we’ve never seen before. We’re going to make an impact on this world, so let’s make it a good one. We are here. So, let’s not stop, now.”

Valedictorian Colby Ye spoke next saying “Four years. We made it. We worked hard, struggled, played.”

He spoke of “showing up to class without pants” to laughter from the graduates.

“Take the experiences that you’ve had here and use them,” Ye continued. “Set your heart ablaze. Live your life with passion. For with passion nothing is out of reach.”

“Fill your life with fun. But remember fill your life with passion,” he concluded.

AUSD Superintendent Stephanie Anello stepped in to give Sarina Turnage her diploma.

Trustee Rocha presents a graduate with her diploma.

AUSD Superintendent Stephanie Anello then formally accepted the graduates.

“As the Superintendent of the Antioch Unified School District, it is my distinct honor to accept the 2022 graduating class from Deer Valley High School,” she said. “Upon the recommendation of the faculty and on behalf of the Antioch Unified School District Board of Education, I certify that each of you has completed the graduation requirements set forth by the Antioch Unified School District. Having completed these requirements, I confer upon each of you the high school diploma with all of its rights, honors, and responsibilities.”

“Henceforth, you are to be considered high school graduates and alumni of Deer Valley High School,” she said to cheers from the graduates. “Congratulations,” Anello added.”

Trustee Lewis congratulates one of the graduates.

The Divine Voices under the leadership of Choral Director Georgia Friend, performed two more songs, “A Blessing” and “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday”.

The names of the graduating seniors were then read by Math Department Chair Maria McClain and math instructor Jessika Tate, as the diplomas were handed out by and photos taken with Dr. Lewis and school board Trustee Mary Rocha.

Following the tassel ceremony led by Class President Rogers, teacher and cross-country coach Mike Green who served as Master of Ceremonies for the event, offered closing remarks. Only a few of the graduates tossed their caps into the air, and then very orderly followed their former principal off the field to meet their family and friends to celebrate.

The DVHS band performed the recessional as Widener directed them for the final time as he is retiring, this year.

Congratulations, Deer Valley Class of 2022. May God bless you in your future pursuits!

A video of the graduation ceremony by DVTV can be viewed on the district’s YouTube Channel here and here.

Music Director Larry Widener leads the DVHS band for a final time.

MORE PHOTOS of the DVHS Class of 2022 Graduation

The DVHS grads file in.

Trustee Lewis presents graduate Nnamdi Egu with his diploma.

Teacher and cross-country coach Mike Green served as MC for the ceremony.

The DVHS Class of 2022 grads turn their tassels.

Dr. Bukky Oyebade leads the graduates off the field to awaiting family and friends during the recessional.


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Antioch’s Dozier-Libbey Medical High Class of 2022 celebrate graduation Thursday night

Friday, June 10th, 2022

Dozier-Libbey graduates cheer and toss their caps into the to celebrate at the conclusion of the ceremony Thursday evening, June 9, 2022.. Photos by Allen D. Payton

Honor fallen classmate with standing ovation; Principal Osterholt says farewell to the graduates and the school as he heads for retirement

Dozier-Libbey grads wearing their caps inscribed with special messages listen to school board trustee Dr. Clyde Lewis.

By Allen D. Payton

The 90-degree heat didn’t keep the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School Class of 2022 from celebrating their graduation, Thursday night. Family and friends cheered their graduates, during the ceremony held inside the Deer Valley Wolverines Stadium. The students honored a fallen classmate, Mason Rodriguez, with standing ovation as his parents received his diploma and hugs from Trustee Dr. Clyde Lewis and Principal Scott Osterholt.

After the soon-to-be alumni filed in, to the traditional playing of Pomp and Circumstance, performed by the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School Band under the direction of Larry Widener, Patricia Jeanne Mari Ramos Abenoja sang the National Anthem. That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance to our nation’s flag, led by Salutatorian Cynthia Rodriguez.

Lewis, the only member of the Antioch School Board in attendance, as Board President Gary Hack and Trustee Mary Rocha were attending the Bidwell High School graduation at the same time across town, offered some opening remarks reminding the class of the past, while focusing on their future with encouragement.

“These past few years have been especially challenging. COVID, distance learning, working together in our homes,” he stated. “All of these things presented new and challenging ways that you all had to experience education. And guess what, you stared steadfast into the face of that challenge, and you overcame it. For this, you should be proud. For the last three years, or 26,280 hours you have had to adapt, redirect, change course and adjust, and guess what, you did it.”

“You are the face of the future, and I am here for it. Thank you for inspiring all those around you. Thank you for leading the charge and showing the world that you will stick to your goals and overcome them no matter the obstacle,” Lewis continued. “It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Well, tonight represents the first step toward your future. Whether the next phase be college, job, or a gap year, just remember that you have and will continue to push forward through any challenge you may face.”

Valedictorian James Geronimo offers his classmates encouragement during his commencement speech, Thursday evening.

During his speech, Valedictorian James Geronimo referred to his fellow classmates as, “the future change makers of our nation and world. The same peers I now call family.”

“We have made it,” he said. “We have earned this moment and we should all be incredibly proud of ourselves that we have made gotten this far.”

“Live with your head held high. Set your heart ablaze. Grit your teeth and look straight ahead,” Geronimo said, quoting Mason Rodriguez. “Living out the mission statements we each created with sincerity and doing so with our hearts set ablaze, filled from head-to-toe with determination, courage and enthusiasm.”

“Remember….the pandemic you endured. What was supposed to be a nearly two-week break, turned into two months, then turned into almost two years,” he reflected.

Dozier-Libbey grads give a standing ovation for fallen classmate Mason Rodriguez whose photo was placed on a front row chair, as his parents, Michael and Jerilyn receive his diploma from Trustee Clyde Lewis.

As he prepares to retire, Principal Scott Osterholt speaks to his final graduating class.

“I want us to never forget the connections you created, the memories you formed and the accomplishments you earned. We have proven time and time again, that we’re equipped with the skills and the passion to make change in this world.” Geronimo continued. “You’ll determine how far you will go. So, spread your wings and fly as high and far as you can go.”

“The future is bright, everybody. Now, it is up to you to make it a great future or not. Congratulations…to the graduating Class of 2022,” he concluded.

Osterholt spoke at his final graduation of students at DLMHS as he’s retiring this year. He presented the Class of 2022 to Superintendent Stephanie Anello who in turn accepted the class “on behalf of the Antioch Unified School District Board of Education.

“Henceforth you are to be known as high school graduates and alumni of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School,” she said.

Amarachi Ibe speaks to her classmates.

Following the reading of the names by teacher Mark Libbey, son of one of the school’s namesakes, and the presentation of the diplomas by Lewis, student Commencement Speaker Amarachi Ibe shared her thoughts.

“Senior family you have accomplished one of the many milestones you will accomplish in your life,” she said.

“As we look back on the last four years, we can single out one group of people who caused our suffering, the teachers,” Amarachi said joking.

Speaking of her fellow classmates she said, “It makes us feel like we have a second family. I always felt welcomed and safe at this school. I would like to congratulate you for earning your diplomas which signifies growth, perseverance and diligence.”

Class President Syrenity Yates speaks before leading the turning of the tassels.

“Mr. Libbey said you don’t grow inside of your comfort zone. Wise words that will stay in my mind forever,” Amarachi continued.

“We earned this moment, and I am so proud of us. Once a Diamondback always a Diamondback,” she said to a cheer from the graduates.

At the beginning of the Tassel Ceremony, Class President Syrenity Yates shared some thoughts with her classmates.

She then led the graduates in moving the tassels on their very colorful and decorated caps, with fun and inspiring sayings in English and Spanish, to signify they’ve graduated. Some of her classmates tossed their caps into the air and they all filed out to meet family and friends to celebrate with hugs, photos, flowers and dancing.

Congratulations, Dozier-Libbey Class of 2022. May God bless you in your future pursuits!

See the graduation video on the AUSD YouTube page.

The Dozier-Libbey Medical High School Band under the direction of Larry Widener performs the recessional at the end of the graduation ceremony.

More Photos of the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School Class of 2022 Graduation

Dozier-Libbey graduates watch as their classmates receive their diplomas.

Graduate Logan Amezcua is greeted by Dr. Lewis as he walks on stage to receive his diploma.

Graduates line up to receive their diplomas as the Honor Guard members line the way.

More grads display their creative caps with special messages during the ceremony.

Teacher Mark Libbey reads the name of each graduate.


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Following group fight Deer Valley High placed on lockdown Thursday due to possible gun on campus

Thursday, May 26th, 2022

Source: AUSD

By Allen D. Payton

According to concerned parents who posted on social media Thursday afternoon, May 26, 2022, Deer Valley High School was placed on lockdown. Antioch Unified School District Superintendent Stephanie Anello shared the following statement that went out to parents giving the reason why:

“Good Afternoon this is Deer Valley Principal Oyebade,

Today at approximately 1:10 pm two students were involved in a physical altercation on the Deer Valley Campus. Several other students attempted to participate as site safety staff, STM (Strategic Threat Management) security, and administrators defused the situation.

It was rumored that a 19-year-old non-student was attempting to get on campus and may be in possession of a weapon. Administration acted quickly and secured the gates and doors of the campus and called the Antioch Police Department. APD came on-site to ensure that students and staff were safe.

We want to thank the safety personnel, administration, and APD for acting quickly. As always student and staff safety is our number one priority we appreciate your support. As always, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any question or concerns. Thank you.”

Asked if a gun was ever found and the non-student located, Anello responded, “no weapon was found and the non-student left the campus.”

Staff Member – Not Actual Lockdown, Debriefing for Staff Set for Tuesday

10:00 PM UPDATE: According to a member of the school’s staff who chose not to be identified, the procedure for an actual lockdown would include an announcement to staff and students to remain in their classrooms and lock the doors. The lights would be turned off and efforts would be made to keep everyone quiet. But that didn’t occur on Thursday. There were still people coming in and out of the campus while APD officers were on site, the staff member added. It lasted until about 2:00 pm that they felt everything was calmed down. But no staff was notified during that time and in fact, some staff still haven’t been notified.

An email was sent out by the principal that a debrief will be held on Tuesday with the staff and attendance is optional.

“I know of at least 10 kids who were involved and an adult from off-campus and was told a site safety staff member had to be held back by students. But I didn’t see the altercation,” the staff member shared.

The adult referred to was the 19-year-old who was an older sister of a student believed to be coming to the campus to protect her brother who was going to be in a fight, and believed to be one of the two initial participants.

Please check back later for any updates to this report.

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Kaiser Permanente behavioral health professionals mentor students at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

Dozier-Libbey students (from right) Emma Mauri, Syncere Jordan, Saniya Maka, Arena Armin. Source: Kaiser Permanente

To inspire, educate, and impart life skills to future mental health professionals

By Alex Madison, Content Marketing Writer III, Kaiser Permanente

Like many high schoolers, students at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, California, are unsure about their career moves post-graduation. With the help of a mentorship program led by Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Mental Health Training Program, these students are getting a window into the behavioral health medical profession.

“Everyone has a different path in life, and my mentor allowed me to see the huge variety of pathways available to me,” said 18-year-old Syncere Jordan. “She told me what it took to get where she is today and what the day-to-day responsibilities of a health care worker are.”

Kaiser Permanente Northern California partnered with the 800-student high school last year to create a mentorship program in which 12 students meet virtually every week for 30 minutes with a mental health provider to talk about career pathways, resumes, college, and the realities of working as a mental health professional.

“I really appreciate the diversity the program allows,” said 16-year-old Emma Mauri. “My mentor and I have talked about everything from life skills, to education, to just telling stories. She’s inspired me to stop being so nervous about the decisions I’m facing about the future of my career.”

Giving back to student and mentor

Reflecting Kaiser Permanente’s core commitment to support mental health and wellness in the communities it serves, every mental health trainee of the Mental Health Training Program is required to complete over 30 hours of community outreach. The outreach focuses on improving the mental health of the local community in some important respect, beyond treating Kaiser Permanente members.

The mentors said educating young people on the importance of mental health and helping guide their future has been very fulfilling.

“My mentor and I have talked about everything from life skills, to education, to just telling stories. She’s inspired me to stop being so nervous about the decisions I’m facing about the future of my career.” – Emma Mauri

“As a first-generation Mexican American and first in my family to graduate college, I’m incredibly passionate about supporting these young people and creating awareness around the complex experiences of being a first-generation student,” said Irais Castro, PhD, a psychology postdoctoral resident at Kaiser Permanente Antioch.

“It’s important to foster these student’s interest in mental health or whichever field they are interested in,” said Nicole Wilberding, PhD, a psychology postdoctoral resident at Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek. “We encourage them to talk about their concerns and fears so they don’t feel overwhelmed about their future.”

Increasing awareness of mental health care

A goal of the 8-week mentorship program is to increase awareness about the field of clinical psychology and mental health among diverse youth populations. Kaiser Permanente shares in the U.S. challenge to meet the demand for mental health care that has been greatly exacerbated by the national shortage of trained mental health professionals.

Although many of the students involved in the mentorship program had not considered a career in mental health, some of them said they are now interested in learning more about the profession as a possible career choice.

Kathryn Wetzler, PsyD, regional director of Mental Health Training Programs, said, “It’s really valuable to identify the young people who are interested in mental health as a career and provide them with the understanding of what being a mental health professional is all about.”

Castro explained that it’s a vital time to educate people about the importance of mental health as a profession.

“We need more clinicians of color and diverse populations in the field, so I am grateful to have the opportunity to create awareness of the need.”

For Jordan, who is 3 months away from graduating high school, her relationship with her mentor is a “bond I will never forget and hope to continue after I graduate.”

Learn more about the Northern California Mental Health Training Program.

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20 students pepper sprayed at Antioch Middle School on Monday

Monday, April 11th, 2022

Antioch Middle School. Photo: AUSD

The following message was sent out Monday to parents, guardians and staff:

Good afternoon,

This is Ms. Jones-Douglas, Principal of Antioch Middle School. During 8th grade lunch, a student discharged possible pepper spray or other irritant outside. Approximately 20 students began complaining of eye irritation. Medical personnel administered saline. All other students are in class and safe. Staff has or is contacting the parents/guardians of the students affected.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact the school should you have any questions or concerns.

Thank you.

AUSD Superintendent shared the message with the media. The school is located at the corner of 1500 D Street.

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Effort to recall Householder from Antioch school board ends, city clerk recall continues

Friday, April 8th, 2022

Organizers say paid petitioners gathered 1,500 signatures on both Householder and Thorpe recalls in first two days

Ellie Householder. Photo by AUSD.

By Allen D. Payton

In a Facebook post on the Recall Ellie Householder Facebook page on Thursday, proponent Lindsey Amezcua announced the end of the effort to remove the Antioch School Board Trustee from her position. However, signature gathering for Householder’s recall to remove her as Antioch City Clerk continues. (See related article)

Amezcua wrote, “The Recall Initiative for Ellie Householder, AUSD School Board Trustee has ended and will not move forward.

Please note:  The Recall Initiative for Ellie Householder, Antioch City Clerk is still active and gathering signatures!!

The following quote was provided on behalf of the proponents of the Recall for Ellie Householder, AUSD School Board Trustee:

‘We opted not to turn in the signatures that we collected.  When we missed the deadline to be able to put the recall initiative on the June Primary ballot; we decided that it was not in the best interest of our school district to pursue a special election when Ms. Householder’s term is over in November.

Collectively, we are all pleased with the results.  Our goal was always, to restore peace and collaboration for the Board of Education and we saw a noticeable shift once we began this process.

We woke residents up to the dysfunction that was occurring and we are happy with the impact our attempt had.’”

According to former Antioch School Board Trustee and President Diane Gibson-Gray in a comment below the Facebook post, “The signature gathers collected more signatures than voted for her.”

“Unfortunately, she continues to display her lack of understanding of her elected position,” Gibson-Gray’s comment continued. “The day after the signature due date, she reached out to her favorite news anchor at KTVU Fox 2 with the message, ‘I’m still here….’. Her message should have been, I’ve learned from this experience and will do better to represent all AUSD constituents.”


Householder came under fire for how she was conducting school board meetings as president, including preventing Superintendent Stephanie Anello from speaking, telling her “you’re not recognized”, as well as violating Robert’s Rules of Order and the state’s Brown Act open meeting law among other reasons. (See related articles here and here)

The dual officeholder currently serves in a citywide seat on the school board, but she moved into Area 1 which is currently represented by Antonio Hernandez whose seat isn’t up for election until 2024. So, unless Householder moves into either Areas 2, where Trustee Mary Rocha lives and whose seat is also up for election, this year or Area 5, she will be unable to run for re-election in November.

Paid Signature Gatherers Hired

The recall effort against both Mayor Lamar Thorpe and City Clerk Householder recently hired paid signature gatherers who obtained 1,500 signatures in just their first two days, Amezcua and Kathy Cabrera, another recall leader, shared.

The deadline for gathering the required signatures for Thorpe is May 11. For Householder’s city clerk recall the deadline is June 6, since hers started later. For more information on the recalls visit and

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