Lawrence, MA – Ambar Alcantara, Germarie Garcia and Janesa Rapaglia- Santos are not traditional students, but received their high school diplomas after earning a second chance at the Phoenix Academy.
Garcia did not know enough English when he moved from Puerto Rico to Lawrence; Alcántara and Rapaglia-Santos, both young mothers had to balance their studies while raising their children.
In the fall they will attend college, thanks to the support they received from Phoenix Academy teachers, their families, and their own desire for an education to improve their lives. They were among 11 students who graduated from school on June 10 at a ceremony at Northern Essex Community College.
“I’m nervous and at the same time happy to attend college next year,” said Alcantara, who had many problems in other schools for fighting, rarely attending classes and running away from home. Everything changed when his son Elijah was born.
“I realized that if I wanted a better future I had to motivate myself to have a bright future and offer my son a much better one,” said Alcántara.
Life gave Rapaglia-Santos a hard time. She was homeless and lived disconnected from her family and temporarily from the father of her children, but her perseverance made her triumph.
After a semester at Lawrence High School, Garcia known as “GiGi” was transferred to the Phoenix Academy where he began to excel academically.
In the fall, Garcia will study nursing at Northern Essex Community College and one of his plans in the future is to earn his bachelor’s degree in nursing and social work.
“Here I not only learned English but also perseverance, skills and personal development that will help me for the rest of my life, ” Garcia said.
Alcántara transferred from Lawrence High School to Phoenix Academy when she got pregnant.
“I did not want to be seen in a state, and changing schools wanted to start again,” said Alcántara. “I liked school because I was small and although at first I felt out of place, I knew I had made a good decision,” he said.
Alcantara liked Phoenix so much that she almost gave birth at school.
Alcántara was out of school for eight weeks after having her baby. The school offered her five hours of tutoring a week which helped her not to fall behind in her studies.
In the not too distant future, Rapaglia-Santos wants to study human services and be a social worker helping children.
Phoenix Academy is an alternative school within the public school district of Lawrence, but is administered by the Phoenix Charter School Network. Lawrence’s campus opened in 2012 and accepts students who have not been successful elsewhere because of many absences or because they left school altogether; For being new immigrants or young parents.
Phoenix Academy in Lawrence has 130 students between the ages of 14 and 22.
“We support them unconditionally and along with a rigorous academic program we expect the best from them,” said Amy Ciaraldi, director of children’s daycare. Of the 11 graduates, three had children. “We teach them to choose positive choices whether in emotional, physical or sexual matters, ” Ciaraldi said.
“One of my favorite parts is to see the students become something that they did not believe was possible,” said Ciaraldi who is passionate about his work.
One of them was Destiny Morton, 17, who was expelled from elementary school for not attending classes and behavior problems.
“There was a time when I was out of school much longer than I was in the classroom, ” Morton said.
Morton said attending Phoenix changed his life, for his discipline, his rules, his schedule and the support of the teachers.
In the fall, Morton will attend Brandeis University through the Myra Kraft Transitional Year program, honoring the late wife of New Enland Patriots footballer Bob Kraft.
“You have to see your mistakes as a way to get better, ” Morton said. “Only you can make your own destiny”.