By James Keith

Richard Milburn Academy is a credit recovery school turned accelerated school that has sometimes been painted as a school for “bad” kids.

However, a look inside of RMA reveals a different story.

A valedictorian graduating a year early and set to finish college in December, a 17 year old salutatorian aiming for scholarships and multiple students from diverse backgrounds holding dreams of becoming Realtors, business owners and engineers.

Ranging from ages of 16 to 22, over 90 students will walk the stage for RMA in June and defy the reputation given to them.

RMA will host its graduation ceremony for the 2023 class at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center at 3 p.m. June 3. After declining numbers in recent years, the academy’s graduating class size is returning back to what it used to be, which architect teacher Antonio Ramos attributed to the ability to be personal with students and inspire them not to quit.

“I have a poster that tells them you need 26 credits, you need your five EOCs, your college bridge and CPR certifications, and at the bottom it says ‘you have too much invested’ and you have to think that way,” Ramos said. “The main reason I teach, I mean the money sucks, but when you see these kids graduating it is priceless.”

A poster in architect teacher Antonio Ramos’ classroom listing graduation requirements, encouraging students to push through and not quit. (James Keith|Odessa American)

This year RMA will graduate almost 100 students.

Students such as Diego Gonzales shared the sentiment felt by Ramos. Gonzales will graduate at age and plans to co-own a power washing business with his brother. He said the personalized teaching at RMA made him want to attend the school over OHS and Permian.

Valedictorian Harlene Gonzalez and salutatorian Christopher Urias built upon previous statements. (Harlene) Gonzalez raved about counselor Linda Voss, stating the immense amount of love she felt for Voss. Urias described how his grades and overall school performance were vastly different from middle school, and how RMA has grown him into a more confident student and person.

Another student, 20-year-old Mariangel Gonzalez, gave a teary-eyed testament to the impact RMA had on her.

“Our house burned down when I was 15 (and) my sister couldn’t graduate because she had all these kids, so I wasn’t gonna come back because I was gonna help my sister take care of her kids,” Gonzalez said. “But I had to finish for myself, and I started doing it for my family and my mom and sister because they didn’t have the chance to do it, so I’m gonna be the one to do it for them. It was hard, but I mean, we’re gonna get on that stage and walk it.”

Students finish up classwork on laptops while they wait to be released from their last class. (James Keith|Odessa American)

Parents such as Danny and Veronica Garza, whose son D’Angelo Garza is graduating and plans to pursue a Realtors license, said D’Angelo was their second child to graduate from RMA, thanking the faculty for how close they get with the students.

Talking about the future of the school, Principal Efrain Moreno said he wants to build upon a set foundation, establishing new graduation requirements and presenting clubs not found in other ECISD schools.

Those include a criminal justice club that competes in law enforcement, a competition that RMA has made state in four years in a row under the guidance of Tammi Price, including a top three finish in 2022. Moreno has also adorned the hallways with different college logos, emphasizing students to look further than Odessa.

“We’re not ready to sail off on our own yet,” Moreno said. “But we’re building the foundation to get there.”