Yesterday Griselda found out that she passed her high school US History Regents exam with a score of 83. This is the last Regents exam she needs to graduate high school in June (NYC public high school students must pass 5 Regents exams to earn a diploma.) She took the test 8 times and failed every time before this one. Needless to say, this is a tremendous victory.
Griselda entered exalt in September 2010 just as she turned 15 and was beginning high school. After completing exalt in early 2011 she served on the New York Juvenile Justice Initiative’s Youth Council we were invited to build and manage during the summers of 2011 and 2012. The NY Juvenile Justice Initiative is comprised of a coalition of over 40 foundations organized around the goal “to ensure an organized and timely response by philanthropy to efforts to "narrow the doorway" and reduce the flow of children and youth into the New York City and State juvenile justice system, to re-orient the system from a correctional to a youth-development and therapeutic model, and improve outcomes for court-involved youth."
Based on her tenacity and initiative on this Youth Council, we selected Griselda to pilot our new initiative placing selected program graduates in secondary post-program internships or shorter-term career exploratory opportunities. In March 2013 Griselda started an internship at the New York Center for Juvenile Justice, at the request of its founder, the Honorable Judge Michael Corriero, based on his impressions of her work on the Youth Council (which culminated its second summer by putting together a panel on juvenile justice issues which included Judge Corriero). Griselda attended community meetings on “Raising the Age” of criminal responsibility in New York (from 16 to 18) all over the city and blogged weekly about this work throughout this three month internship.
Last spring Griselda was invited to present at an inaugural symposium at Lehman College put on by ISLAS, a new initiative through CUNY designed to bring Latino/a studies into high schools as well as strengthen it in the CUNY system. She was the only student presenting that had involvement in the juvenile justice system, and rather than shy away from the stigma of her past, Griselda made a passionate speech about the struggles she and many of her peers face which lead them into the system, and how difficult it can be to escape the system’s grip once involved.
Griselda has essentially no family support – she has never met her mother and lives with her father and stepmother who have never assisted her with school or any of her needs, nor have they supported any of her achievements highlighted here. However, through Griselda’s sustained connection to exalt, she transformed her attitude towards school and education, has successfully made it to the 12th grade at the High School for Health Careers and Science, and is on the honor roll. With exalt’s assistance she has applied for 6 colleges in the CUNY and SUNY systems. She has become an incredibly well spoken advocate about youth justice and has gained the support of one of our city’s most prominent advocates for youth justice – Judge Corriero.
And yet, while Griselda passed four of her five Regents exams before entering the twelfth grade, and accomplished everything outlined above, the US History Regent exam lingered as her nemesis, a personification of all the obstacles she has faced and persevered against. She kept trying, and kept failing. She got a tutor in school and stayed into the evenings studying. She came to exalt on off afternoons and studied. She took practice tests and kept struggling with the essay portions. This January was her last opportunity to take and pass this test, or her prized target of an (on time) high school diploma was in jeopardy. Griselda has had her sights set on college for the past 3 ½ years. She moves through her life and this world with a fierce independence – able to envision herself in the environment she wants to be in, not the one expected for her to end up in. What was the likelihood that she would pass after seven failed attempts? We were nervous. Very.
And then there it was. A report card with an average over 90, and a score of 83 on the US History Regent exam. AND she had re-taken the English Regent to see if she could raise her score enough to exempt her from having to take any remedial English classes in college. She met that goal as well.
All exalt students face humbling obstacles to what many consider a baseline achievement of a high school diploma. Meeting a goal that requires constantly disentangling oneself from a voracious web of opposing expectations is hard at best. It often debilitates. Eight was Griselda’s magic number. You can help another determined young woman –or man – find her magic number. Consider taking on an exalt intern, contributing to exalt, or simply passing on Griselda’s story.