Virtual education is the key to success for Israel Ruiz as he strives to overcome challenging health hurdles he has faced since birth.
Ruiz, 17, was born with a condition that caused the underdevelopment of part of his tiny heart. He had open-heart surgery at 4 days old, 6 months old and again at 3 years old, his parents said. He continues to need treatments and procedures annually, first at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and now at Loma Linda Children’s Hospital. He has had a stent procedure to help the functioning of his heart.
Public schools were not an option for him, as he needed to protect his fragile immune system and heart, his parents said.
“We had to protect him from germs,” his mother said. “His heart was functioning off of one ventricle.”
Ruiz now attends the Capistrano Connections Academy, a tuition-free online public school serving students in grades K-12 in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. The school, founded in 2004, is accredited by the Schools Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
On Dec. 29, he celebrated his 17th birthday with his family.
“I get double presents,” he said. “I am trying to keep that record.”
He lives with his parents, Becky and Jose Ruiz, who both work full-time jobs, and his younger brother, Josiah, 15, who attends an online education program at California Academy.
About six months ago, Ruiz experienced some setbacks and his heart was “starting to struggle,” his mother said. He was not able to keep the pace he had been setting.The online school is the perfect option for her son, she said.
“It helps tremendously with his health,” she said. “He does not want to be thought of as not as capable as other kids.”
There’s another reason he is happy to attend school online.
“There is a lot of negative peer pressure at school, and I did not want it to influence me,” he said.
Motivation and self-discipline with auto repair
Ruiz has lived in Twentynine Palms since 2010, but has deep roots there.
His grandparents, Diane and David Bailey, owners of Bailey’s Automotive, have been strong sources of support for him.
“I’ve got a dream he’ll grow up and run this shop,” his grandpa said, smiling at his grandson on a sunny afternoon the week before Christmas. “He may go another direction.”
His grandson is a fast learner and quick study on all things automotive. He spends at least two days a week with his grandpa working on cars at the shop.
“He’s self-motivated,” David Bailey said. “With his school, you have to be.”
Ruiz also goes to the shop to work on his 1992 Toyota truck.
“He’s learning all the mechanics from his grandpa,” his dad said. “It has helped him to focus and his grades have improved. He’s there all the time.”
His work helps him with social activities as well.
“He can work,” Ruiz’s mother said. “It is not too strenuous for him.”
A lot of other physical activities are not possible with his heart condition. The family returns to Loma Linda soon to discover through more tests if there have been improvements with his heart’s strength. Future options include pacemakers and looking “toward transplants” if his heart continues to weaken. In the one-year time period from 2016--2017 when he was tested, he had an “obvious deterioration with the strength of his heart,” his mother said.
“He wants to work and be as normal as every other kid his age,” she added.
Ruiz has at times worked two jobs at once, including at a local Mexican restaurant and a fast food position at McDonald’s. He has decided for now that one job is enough.
“I quit my McDonald’s job,” he said during a phone interview.
His current job at the Mexican restaurant keeps him busy. He is flexible with his schedule, going to work when he is needed.
“It really depends,” he said of his schedule. “They just call me. If they call me in early, I can go. I want to work.”
If he works night hours, he said he does all his homework beforehand.He said he loves the flexibility of online education and that it has helped him be responsible and disciplined.
“I have a car now and I want to work,” he said. “I want more money, and as an adult you need to have a job.”
Ruiz hopes to travel in the future and one day own and operate his own business. He said his grandparents have been an inspiration for him.
He said he is making excellent grades in his online classes and plans to attend Copper Mountain College’s automotive program in the future.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “It’s online too.”
A passion for the arts and magic
Ruiz also loves to perform magic tricks, and wrote an essay to attend an annual convention for magicians in Ohio recently.
“We went to Columbus, Ohio, together,” his dad said. “He has so much freedom … he’s really motivated and has a lot of goals.”