On a remote patch of the Mojave Desert, amidst dusty tumbleweeds and rangy Joshua Trees, sits an anomaly: a high school where educators believe empathy, life skills, and the constancy of a caring adult are the differences that will give at-risk students command of their fates. On any given day, principal Vonda Viland calls kids at the crack of dawn to see if they’ll make it to school. And if they need a ride? Well, she’ll pick them up. Vonda knows each student’s challenges and coaches them tirelessly, never fostering false hopes. Her philosophy combines loving compassion with realism, and given her school’s rising graduation rate, it seems to be working.