Virtual Academy Helps Student Beat Adversity, Earn Degree

PEYTON, Colo. – When David Alfredo Orquiz received his high school diploma in Peyton, Colo., May 25, he felt “ready to take on the world.”

Thirty-five high school seniors were celebrated during Falcon Virtual Academy’s first commencement ceremony at Meridian Point Church. Orquiz, 21, was the oldest and arguably the proudest. Falcon School District 49’s online program had helped end an era of hopelessness that almost killed him.

“In September of 2009, my life changed forever when I was rushed to the emergency room,” says Orquiz, recalling his second month as a high school senior in Artesia, N.M. He started routinely losing consciousness, and waking up with needles in his arms, tubes down his throat, nurses huddled over him.

“In September of 2009, my life changed forever when I was rushed to the emergency room.”

As the episodes persisted, roughly four times per month, Orquiz often found himself finishing school work in hospital beds. His physicians warned he’d constantly require supervision. His high school counselor said he’d never graduate.

“My high school said it was too late to graduate – I had already missed too many days,” said Orquiz. He wasn’t interested in GED tests for a high school equivalent. The determined scholar aspired to defeat his illness and earn his diploma.

“They said drop out and just get my GED,” said Orquiz. “Most employers and colleges want you to have a high school diploma, not a GED. But I had to take care of my health first.”

After three months of examinations at Artesia General Hospital, results remained inconclusive. Physicians referred him to a hospital in Texas, where he spent several weeks undergoing electrocardiograms and computed axial tomographies. Still, none of it offered much hope, he said.

In May 2011, the Orquiz family moved to Colorado Springs, Colo. He enrolled in evening classes at Patriot Learning Center in Peyton, but his seizures continued.

Eventually, physicians at Anschutz Medical Campus in the University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora, discovered sleep apnea was causing abnormally low concentrations of oxygen in his blood. Chronic nighttime hypoxia was lowering his system’s threshold for suffering daytime epileptic seizures.

“The doctors at Anschutz helped me get past the episodes,” said Orquiz. He received a ventilator for continuous positive airway pressure throughout the night, enough to keep his airways open.

“They told me to get on with my life and pursue my goals,” he said.

In June 2011, his counselor at Patriot Learning Center referred him to Falcon Virtual Academy, the newest option to earn a high school diploma in District 49’s iConnect Innovation Zone.

FVA completed its first enrollment in July 2010, said David Knoche, principal. Five students graduated in May 2011 and attended ceremonies at local high schools. Enrollments quickly grew to more than 350, as more blended, personalized and flexible options became available.

“I was called in to talk to Mrs. Fletcher,” said Orquiz, then 20 years old. “I was told I could enroll regardless of my age and that I could finish my classes within six months. I told her I wanted to walk at graduation and be in a cap and gown.”

“He was the most motivating young man,” said Jodi Fletcher, FVA assistant principal. “He was inspiring. His determination. It was an ‘I’m not going to quit’ philosophy. David got great grades and worked hard. He had a goal in mind and there was nothing that was going to stop him.”

“If I didn’t feel right, I was at home,” said Orquiz. “I could just close the computer and get some rest. If I didn’t understand an assignment, I could go to the academy and they’d explain it.

“I could not have done all of this without the help of FVA,” said Orquiz, who’s now enrolled at the Lincoln College of Technology in Denver to study automotive technology. “I have taken my knowledge into the automotive industry and doing what I love the most… It was worth everything I went through.

“If you stick to your goals, you’ll find somewhere to get what you want in life.”

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