"You're just eating up everybody's hopes," said Chantal Descheenie, 15, a junior at the school.
Descheenie is one of the students who attends the alternative high school, which takes in students who have struggled academically or socially at other high schools. The school, which is in Shiprock, also takes in teen parents and offers them in-school day care services.
More than 100 staff members, parents and students tied to the school gathered Wednesday evening to address the district's superintendent, Don Levinski, who explained why the district was likely going to shut down the school.
Levinski was met with signs that stated "S.O.S." for "Save Our School," and "Career Prep High School won't back down." Others read "Shutting down another school?" referring to the June 2010 closure of Nataani Nez Elementary School, also in Shiprock.
"We'll have to close and consolidate more schools in the future," said Phil Kasper, the district's director of administrative and student success, on Wednesday.
Most of the crowd learned of the school's possible closure Tuesday morning, after the school's principal, Joyce Rock, learned the news Monday evening. Many of the students came to tears as they talked about their experiences at the school.
"There are just some students that aren't going to be successful at a larger school," said Rock, estimating that about 60 students would not continue with school if Career Prep High School closed.
The district could save an estimated $1.7 million by closing the school, which opened less than 10 years ago. The district needs to cut an estimated $5.2 million from its budget for the next school year. Just last week, district officials said the amount that needed to be cut was $4 million.
Levinski will have to propose shutting Career Prep High School at a school district board meeting at 6:30 p.m. today at the district's Shiprock board room. The idea also will have to be approved by the state public education department.
The outlook, though, is grim.
"This is a last option," said Kasper, explaining that the district has considered all other choices.
About 120 students are currently enrolled at Career Prep High School, which employs 11 staff members. If Career Prep closes, most of the students will be absorbed by Shiprock High School, about 30 by Kirtland Central High School and another dozen by Newcomb High School.
Because of their ages or past disciplinary actions, Career Prep is the only option left for some students. One of those students, Perrena Etcitty, 24, said she is thankful she is graduating later this month from Career Prep.
Etcitty left Shiprock High School about seven years ago because she became pregnant and could not keep up with her school workload. She enrolled in Career Prep High School and dropped out numerous times because she had three more children.
"Career Prep didn't give me a second chance. It gave me a lot of chances," said Etcitty, who hopes to go to college and study education.
Other students on Wednesday shared how they were kicked out of multiple schools and told by teachers to drop out and that they had no chance.
"The day I walked through these doors, it felt like home," said Shannon Willie, a Career Prep High School graduate.
Willie enrolled at the school when her son was less than a year old. Now, her son is 4, and she attends San Juan College.
"This school has made me strong. A lot of us get told we won't make it. But we do," she said.
Jenny Kane can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4636. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane.