Fontana Unified School District celebrates one of the highest graduation rates in U.S.

The Fontana Unified School District is celebrating a historical feat. The district boasts a 98% graduation rate, according to U.S. News and World Report rankings.

The impressive number not only stands above the state's median, but the elite-tier graduation rate comes despite the fact that these families – the majority of the students coming from low-income, minority households – all dealt with the financial and academic challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We made a conscious decision to raise our expectations" explains Fontana High School vice principal Marissa Beitler.

Beitler explained the "D-grade" is not considered a passing grade at the school. A student explained a D-grade will mean summer school.

But with high expectations, you have to have programs to help you achieve them, say school officials. The district has put its grant searching and partnerships with the private sector efforts into overdrive.

Their animatronics lab is a result of partnering with the famed Garner Holt education through the imagination program. Across the hall from that lab, is a full nursing training classroom, featuring 3D anatomy and virtual dissection machines, along with life-size human models to practice on. 

Students prepare for the state nursing exam, while getting hands-on experience at local nursing homes, and many can get jobs right out of high school. The carpenter’s union works with their woodworking programs, so the partnerships extend to nonacademic programs. 

But the one thing students we spoke to credit, just as much as the programs, is the support system at the school. Huge on school spirit, Fontana High students wear the school colors every Friday, but quickly say that maroon is more than a color, they really consider themselves family. 

Many of the teachers were actually students at the school, and readily share their stories to help students understand their genuine affection for the place. Many stay after school to tutor, and it’s not unusual to see a coach hanging out late into the night as students stay to practice, or just enjoy pickup basketball games. 

Joshua Galicia, a senior we met working at the animatronics lab, shares how he approached the principal asking why they didn’t have a volleyball team. She challenged him to find students who wanted to play. 

A year later, the Fontana Boys Volleyball team is coming through with quite an impressive record.

Dulce Estrada, a senior in the nursing program shares her day begins at 5 a.m., and ending in the late evening after her cheerleading practices. A straight-A student, whose immigrant parents didn’t graduate high school, she plans to become a pediatrician and has applied to 16 colleges and universities. 

Listen to what students say in our story, it really seems to echo what school officials say:

"There's some magic here," they say.