By Laura Brown

Triplicate Staff Writer

They have been labeled misfits and have struggled to fit into the regular school system, but yesterday they took the stage as graduates.

They are members of the John Muir charter school program at Requa, wich was adopted two years ago by the California Conservation Corps.

At Crescent Citys Cultural Center, crowds of proud parents, teachers and supportive community members came to honor the 18 beaming graduates.

One member of the program, Chai Xiong, was born in Thailand and moved with his family to the U.S. in 1990.

He came to the CCC 19 months ago and, since his stay there, has learned to read and write English. Now he is trilingual, speaking Thai, Hmong and English. I will keep on trying until I graduate, Xiong said.

According to Wendy Lafer, a teacher at the school, 98 percent of corps members joined the program because they felt they didnt fit into the customary school system.

Maybe its the school that doesnt fit the student, she suggested. At John Muir the teachers do fit and the students do learn, Lafer says. I call it the perfect fit.

Its a great program. Very beneficial to many people. It helps people believe its never too late to keep hope alive, said 22- year-old Gilbert Bennett, a graduate who originally came from South Central Los Angeles because he was looking for a change in environment.

He said he wasnt into the school thing, but his time at the Del Norte Center changed his opinion. The program supports kids to the fullest.

And that approach seems to be very effective.

Children learn from the time they wake up to the time when they go to bed at night, said David Boyd, the District Director of the John Muir Charter school system. He said the teachers try to be there at all hours to connect to the students and take advantage of their learning process.

The corps members put in many hours of intense physical labor during the day with evenings dedicated to schooling. The corps members continually learn about the environment as they work so intimately with it; building bridges, paths, and making long arduous treks through the wilderness. Teamwork and environmental awareness are very important components of the CCC philosophy.

The California Conservation Corps was established in 1975 by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown saw it as a much-needed way to teach young people how to live together. He called the camaraderie, sweat equity and hoped people involved would find that they shared more similarities than differences with others.

At the end of yesterdays ceremony students, one by one, came before the crowd and spoke their mind while holding the talking stick a trait borrowed from the Native American Community and adopted by the CCC culture.

While holding the stick, the talker is given the full attention of his/her listeners and is part of the school programs daily meetings called Circle Up.

The Dialogue, as Larry Hand called it, encourages students to speak of the deeper meanings of life.

Brian Peterson recited a poem in which the last lines read: Its time for love, Its time for peace, Its time for truth.

Another student recited the famous words of Chief Seattle: The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

To learn more about the CCC and the charter school, contact Larry Hand, Klamath Conservation Supervisor at (707) 482-2941.