Pregnant and Kicked Out of Home; Now What?

Michael Jonas writes in Commonwealth:

Jazzmin Hernandez doesn’t fit anybody’s profile of a likely high school graduate, never mind a soon-to-be college student.

When she was 10, she and her older brother spent two years in foster care as their mother battled drug addiction. By the time she was in high school, Hernandez was back home with her mom, but in a bad relationship where she suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her boyfriend. She felt increasingly isolated at Revere High School. She got pregnant, and after Averyanna was born, Hernandez and her daughter were kicked out of her home by her mother, with whom her relationship had become increasingly strained.

Hernandez dropped out of school and stayed with friends for several months before getting her own apartment. She worked three jobs, putting in 80 hours a week to make ends meet. After three years out of school, however, she knew she was going to have a hard time keeping her head above water on low-wage service jobs, to say nothing of having little chance of getting beyond subsistence wages to give herself and her daughter a better life.

That’s when someone told Hernandez about an alternative high school in Chelsea that offered a solid curriculum for students who had dropped out. What’s more, Phoenix Charter Academy had an onsite child care center, so she and Averyanna could head off to school together each day. Last year, Hernandez decided to take the plunge.

“I was nervous,” she says. “My test scores were horrible. I could not read out loud without messing up the whole time. And then I met Mr. Chen,” she says of Yu Chen, a humanities teacher at Phoenix with whom she developed a quick bond. “He knew my background, he knew my story. And he didn’t just take that as an, OK, we’re just going to excuse you for everything. It was more of a reason to challenge me.”

In June, Hernandez was one of 29 students at Phoenix who received their high school diplomas. The poised 22-year-old has become a straight-A student, while holding down two part-time jobs and caring for her daughter. And she’s now on her way to the bachelor’s degree program at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

Read the whole thing

Shout out to the wonderful Phx crew, including Liv, John, and...Yu!  I remember him as an earnest teacher resident at Match, and vaguely recall he may (?) have been an undersized o-lineman at Penn.  Sounds like he's bringing that same grit to teaching. 

From the article:

The message students get from their first day is, “we’re going to hold you to the expectations that good schools and great schools hold their kids to, because we care about you that much,” says Phoenix founder Beth Anderson. “When did it become OK to say to a kid who’s poor or who has dropped out or who is having significant challenges inside a poor system, I won’t expect as much from you even though I know that those expectations and meeting them are critical to you being successful?”

Where did Beth learn that?  At least in part from Charlie Sposato, Match's founding principal, who mentored a lot of us, including Beth. 

Where did Charlie learn that?  Probably from the Jesuits, but he applied it in a district school setting, Framingham Public Schools.  He ran kind of a Phoenix like program within the walls of a suburban high school -- Resiliency For Life -- for many years before I recruited him to lead Match. 

These ideas can work in any setting. 

But they are immensely challenging to pull off day-to-day.