In 2014, when Antoine was 16, his family moved to the United States from Uganda as refugees. Antoine was born in Congo, but his family was forced to leave after internal conflicts broke out throughout the country. The Niyonshuti family moved to Uganda, where Antoine received most of his education. However, Antoine’s parents wanted more for their children – so they moved to the United States to Denver, Colorado.
It was in Denver that Antoine attended George Washington High School, where he faced new challenges like speaking English, having an accent, and making friends after moving across the world. Although most of Antoine’s Ugandan transcript was transferable, he still needed to pass two more classes to attain his high school diploma. The classes were offered via online courses through Denver Public Schools, but Antoine had trouble with the online structure and the lack of in-person interaction. Before he knew it, the classes were over, but he hadn’t finished. Antoine was confused about what to do and began to feel helpless.
It was then that America, a CYC Reengagement Specialist, reached out to Antoine and his family and asked if he would like her help getting back into school and finishing what he started. Antoine met with America right away because he felt like he could still live out his dream of becoming an engineer. When America told Antoine about North Engagement Center (NEC) and then toured the school, he felt like he found the right fit. NEC was close to his job and the class times offered worked with his work schedule – he became eager to enroll. Once classes started, Antoine was comfortable asking for help and also felt a lot of support from the staff and principal, Teresa Steele. After one quarter, Antoine graduated with his high school diploma.
Antoine is very thankful to America for helping him move forward with his education. “If it weren’t for America, I don’t think I would have my diploma,” said Antoine. Antoine plans on applying to college and intends on majoring in engineering and aspires to work with engines and planes.
Danny used to get straight A’s. After 6th grade his grades steadily began to slip. Things really took a turn when he started high school. He started the year off strong, but then became overwhelmed by school and life. This led to Danny not seeing school as a priority. It also put a strain on his relationship with his mom. He just couldn’t get on the right track.
After freshman year, Danny transferred to Colorado High School Charter (CHSC), but he continued to take school for granted and wasn’t earning any credits. Then all of a sudden something changed. He started going to church more, got involved with music, and joined the basketball team. He also began working with Julissa, a CYC Student Advocate at CHSC. He has made a real connection with Julissa, he says “she helps me a lot. She motivates me and gives me that extra push throughout the day."
Talking to Danny is easy. Though he’s been through a lot, he’s an open book. His love of music really developed through CHSC’s partnership with Youth on Record (YOR). Danny explains that when you’re making music with YOR, you can’t swear or say bad things about women. He says “I think it’s great that you have to be respectful with your music. It’s also helped me expand my vocabulary and get better at writing."
Everything has changed for Danny. He believes in himself. When asked if his goal is to graduate he says, “Ya, I have to graduate.” Now Danny is passing every class and maintaining an 89 percent attendance rate. Julissa says “Danny’s done a complete 360. His teachers tell me not only how well he’s doing in school, but how happy he is now.” His math teacher told Julissa “He’s actually smiling when he walks into class.”
When Danny’s mom was able to come to parent night for the first time and hear all the amazing things everyone has to say about Danny, she became emotional. Danny’s relationship with his mom has changed for the better. Julissa said “It’s been such a great experience to be a part of Danny’s journey and see him grow and show people he’s not who they defined him as. Even though he’s had a rough past, that isn’t who he is. He just needed an extra push and for somebody to say ‘you need to make a change.’” Danny jumped in and said with a smile “I was always capable of doing the work.”
When asked if he would change anything if he were to do it all over again. Danny said “Absolutely I would. I wouldn’t smoke and I would concentrate on my school work all year instead of just the first few weeks.” After he receives his diploma, Danny would love to go to college for music and learn all the different aspects of the music industry.
DiorJonea’ didn’t want to leave the state she called home, her friends, her basketball and track teammates or her high school, but she and her mom were moving to Colorado to be near her sister. She started going to an early college tech school, but there was no structure and she started falling behind. She dropped out of school. She planned to go back eventually, but didn’t know how to find the right school.
A few months later, Rachael, a CYC Educational Outreach Specialist, called her and asked if she wanted to go back to school. At first she wasn’t going to even call Rachael back, but her mom pushed her to call her. She finally did and they set up a time to meet. She was so nervous to meet with Rachael. She really wanted to graduate this school year, but wasn’t sure if it was possible. The meeting wasn’t that bad and Rachael gave her a few different school options to think about. When she heard about DC-21, it seemed like it could be a good fit. They were lucky enough to be able to visit the school that day and as soon as DiorJonea’ walked through the doors she liked it. She enrolled that day.
Since working with Rachael and attending DC-21, DiorJonea’ has excelled in school. She says “every day I walk into the building and (the Principal), Mr. Simmons, tells me I am a queen and a scholar.” This kind of support means the world to DiorJonea’. Last quarter she made honor roll and is on track to make it again. She beams with pride as we look over her grades. She has all As and she will graduate with her high school diploma in January. She will be the first in her family to graduate from high school. Her family has played a big part in her motivation. Although two of her brothers are incarcerated, she says they push her the hardest. They are always checking in to see how she’s doing in school and they make her send pictures of her grades.
Both Rachael and her DiorJonea’s counselor at DC-21 say they have seen her attitude change a lot too. If she has a question or needs help, she will reach out to her teachers and the other staff.
DiorJonea’s goal is to move back to Texas and go to college and become a nurse. There is no doubt that she will reach these goals.
Jazmin often missed school because she was sick. She’s extremely allergic to smoke and many different foods. “Since I was sick at home by myself so often, I would get really depressed,” said Jazmin. When she was able to go to school, she never knew what was going on in class. Trying to catch up seemed impossible. There were times when teachers would really try to support Jazmin, but then it felt like they just stopped believing in her.
At one point, Jazmin tried an online program, but it was hard to find the assignments and the support she needed wasn’t there. She didn’t receive any credit for an entire year. She knew she needed to find a different option. That’s when the Principal at Broomfield High School told her to speak with Rachael, a CYC Educational Outreach Specialist. When Rachael called Jazmin, she instantly felt supported and finally felt like she was going to start moving forward with her life and her education.
Jazmin had very few credits and so she and Rachael discussed going to Arapahoe Ridge High School (ARHS). ARHS allows students to go at a faster pace in order to receive more credits. “I was nervous at first, but I really like it now,” said Jazmin. The teachers are her favorite part. “They are all fun people with different personalities and they know how to deal with all the students.”
Jazmin is so thankful for Rachael. Rachael always makes sure that any decisions about Jazmin’s education and her life are her own. “She makes me understand that all options are still open.”
When asked what success looks like to her, Jazmin says “success to me is graduating from high school! I am telling myself that I want to do it, therefore I have to. I push through the pain of being sick. I walk a mile and a half to the bus stop every morning to catch the seven o’clock bus. Sometimes when I walk to the bus I feel frozen, but I am motivated by the work I am going to do at school that day.” After high school, Jazmin wants to go to Naropa University and become a novelist.
Transitioning to high school from middle school is hard. It doesn’t matter who you are. While Monique had a lot of her friends make the transition with her, walking into a school with over a thousand students was overwhelming. She felt lost and scared. There was so much homework and finding a silent place to study at home with her mom, dad, 3 siblings and her niece was difficult. Monique also got sucked into the “fun” of ditching class, it seemed like everyone was doing it so why not. She started failing a couple of her classes and she didn’t know what to do; overwhelmed from getting so behind left her feeling helpless. She couldn’t see a way out.
Monique started working with Emily, a CYC Educational Intervention Specialist, and slowly started to turn things around. When Emily and Monique started working together, Emily didn’t even bring up grades because the instant they were mentioned Monique shutdown. The second semester of her freshman year, her goal was to pass all her classes. She worked hard and began to gain faith in her ability to do her work. She met her goal and passed all her classes.
Now in her sophomore year, Monique even checks her grades on her own. Monique says “ last year, the thought of wasting my lunch time to do homework was crazy to me, but now I pretty much do homework during lunch every day. I care about my grades.” Monique and Emily beam with pride as they announce that Monique has no missing assignments, great attendance and all Bs and As. She stays after school every day to get her homework done. She also joined student council last year and while she was hesitant at first, she loves it now. It pushed her to make new friends and has made her involved with her school in many different ways. She loves her school now! Her favorite class this year is Biology. Her goal is to attend college at Colorado University. When asked who she wants to make proud, she says “my mom.” Emily says “it’s been so amazing to watch Monique grow. I’m so proud of her and it’s so great to be able to see her relax and have fun in high school while staying on top of her grades and her attendance.”
Sometimes all it takes is a little extra support and perseverance. In 2015, Jesse came across Julissa’s list of students who dropped out of Emily Griffith High School. Emily Griffith just didn’t have enough structure for Jesse and he ended up not obtaining any credits during the time he spent there. Jesse really just needed someone to support him and stay persistent.
CYC's model was the perfect fit for Jesse. Julissa met with him and his mom and they figured out a plan. Initially, Julissa enrolled Jesse in Justice High School because it was the only good fit that was enrolling at the time. While it was great to get Jesse back into school right away, he decided it was not the best long-term fit. He advocated for himself and enrolled in the Contemporary Learning Academy. Jesse became committed to his education and determined to graduate with a high school diploma.
Jesse graduated last May. He is currently working to support himself.