When I was in 10th grade at Jones High School, I had a 1.27 GPA … and I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it.
School was overwhelming. I was always getting into trouble because I couldn’t focus in class. Every time there was a test, I failed it. I was so far behind that I didn’t see the point in studying, and I didn’t know who to ask for help.
At the time, I felt like I was alone. But now I know that I wasn’t the only one struggling … and that it wasn’t too late to get back on track. My best friend used to get in trouble a lot, too, until her mom sent her to a special program called Project COMPASS: a nonprofit partnership between Goodwill and Orange County Public Schools that’s designed to help kids like me graduate.
When my mom heard about Project COMPASS, she thought it might be a good fit. The more I learned, the more hopeful and excited I felt to start attending classes at my new campus. It seemed like a totally different learning experience – a place where I’d have someone to help me every step of the way.
In an ideal world, every student would have personalized help from teachers who could give them their full attention and support. Every kid would have a parent or adult preparing them to get good grades, graduate, get a job and be independent.
But the fact is, a lot of kids don’t have any of that. Instead, they feel lost and forgotten. They fail again and again, and because of it, they stop caring. They stop thinking they can ever succeed. Project COMPASS and other alternative education programs reach out to students who fall through the cracks of the system and give them a second chance.
In our old setting, we were the ones who couldn’t seem to keep out of trouble, struggled to keep our grades up or just didn’t come to class. Some of my classmates even started the program with really low GPAs from failing nearly every course. But here, we know we’re all in the room for one thing … graduation.
There’s no secret to the program: It’s as simple as small classes, lots of encouragement and one-on-one attention from teachers who really believe that we can succeed if we have the right tools. That makes a big difference. Not everyone has computer and Wi-Fi access at home, or a quiet place to study. For those students, the classroom is a safe space where someone is always ready to help.
I just turned 18, and – thanks to Project COMPASS – my life is a whole different picture. My GPA is way up to a 2.9, and I’m in dual enrollment at a technical school. With only three classes left to complete, I’ll graduate with both a Jones High School diploma and a certificate in cosmetology. (I’ve always loved doing hair, makeup and nails!) Thinking about the future, I don’t feel scared or hopeless anymore. I’m excited – and I’m proud of myself because I have a plan.
Right now, I’m also in a working internship at Goodwill, where I get elective credit and experience. My job is sorting donations that help raise money for Project COMPASS and other Goodwill programs. In January, I’ll move to a customer-facing position so I can get experience in both roles. It’s a job I love, not just because I’m getting experience, but because the work I do will help families that really need it.
I’m so thankful for the help I’ve gotten from my teachers and classmates – and I’m thankful for the people who donate and shop at Goodwill, who probably don’t even know how much of a difference they’re making for students like me. When everyone helps just a little bit, we really can change lives for the better.
And to the kids out there who feel like they’re alone: I know it’s hard, but don’t give up. Talk to your teacher, your principal, your guidance counselor. If you just keep asking, you’ll find people who want to help you succeed – and that can make all the difference in the world.
Shanice Ferris is a senior in Project COMPASS.