But thanks to a new program at La Paloma High School in Brentwood, a handful of students are doing much to change both the reputation and public perception of this long-established continuation school, and they're doing it through the newly established leadership program.
"This is the first year we've been able to work this class into the curriculum, and it's been great," said Kristen Capps, La Paloma English teacher and leadership advisor. "We are a small continuation school, and there is a certain perception out there about us. This program helps us show a different side."
Joshua Bynum, a senior in the leadership class, agrees.
"I think this is giving us a better image," he said, "and that's good."
The leadership class is a hands-on, combination school booster program and life skills course. Students who sign up participate in and plan events like the recent Christmas Feast, and also learn how to write resumes, speak in public, fill out college applications and conduct job searches.
Those who enroll in the group must maintain a required number of school credits - La Paloma's version of the traditional grade-point average - and an appropriate attitude.
Celeste Yerena, who has both, is fully enjoying the responsibility and perks of the leadership class.
"The class is fun and it gets us involved in our own school," said Celeste. "There are a lot more activities coming to this school now."
One activity the students have taken on this year is a mentoring program with continuation school Golden Gate Community Day in Brentwood. Bringing both friendship and commonality to their visits, Capps' students enjoyed such simple pleasures as sharing snacks, conversation and games with the middle schoolers.
The experience, said Capps, was very rewarding.
"I think my kids had an expectation about these (Golden Gate) kids, like some people have expectations about them," she said. "But they (Golden Gate students) were so sweet - just regular kids. We can't wait to go back."
Designed to pick up where conventional high schools leave off, La Paloma, said Principal Larry Rodriquez, is not just a last-stop, end-of-the-road environment for floundering students.
Instead, said Rodriquez, the bulk of the school's roughly 200 students are bright, hard-working, college-bound kids.
"I am so proud of not only the leadership class but the whole student body," said Rodriquez. "A student comes here for various reasons, but the majority are kids who have been sick a lot and had to take time off, or students who for whatever reason do better in a more personal environment. We're a small, rural community, and that just works better for some students."
And with a teacher-student ratio of 20-1 - approximately 10 students better than traditional high schools - it's hard to dispute the advantage of smaller classrooms and individual attention.
"I used to go to Freedom," said Joshua, "and there were so many kids in the classes I would spend the whole period with my hand up and the teacher would still walk by. This is better."
And what's better for the students ends up being better in the long run for the community.
For Capps, it's all intertwined.
"We have great support from the parents and the community as far as donations and encouragement," said Capps. "Everyone is so generous. We feel very lucky."