There was not a dry eye in sight as Ariana Sanchez walked across the stage last June to pick up her high school diploma.
Graduation already is an emotional time, but Sanchez’s graduation from DeWitt Clinton was extra special — she’s the first from her family to graduate high school. The road, however, was long and far from easy. At times Sanchez considered dropping out.
But thanks to the long-running community program Good Shepherd Services, Sanchez finally achieved her goal.
“I couldn’t pass my regents, and that’s when I started hearing about the (Good Shepherd) program,” Sanchez said. “I met nice counselors and they were telling me that I got this. Now I’ve passed and I’m done with high school.”
Good Shepherd Services has a Young Adult Borough Center program that caters to older students between 17 and 21 who don’t have enough credits to graduate, or are in at least their fifth year of high school. Sanchez was 20 when she graduated this past June, joining 400 other grads just like her.
Good Shepherd supports students who are not on track for graduation through full days of academic assistance and year-round support. It also helps students transition into adulthood through resume building, interview training, professional communication and team building, meant to prepare them for the working world.
“Even knowing how to call out for work and code switching are important tools we teach,” said Wendy Taylor, Good Shepherd’s senior internship coordinator. “Our students are marginalized, and it is very hard for them sometimes to fit into a traditional school setting. They find a sense of belonging here and we offer a lot of support that they didn’t have. And job development is one of them.”
Part of what held Sanchez back from getting her diploma was the regents exam for algebra II — something that frustrated her through six attempts to pass it. When her studying produced no results, Sanchez grew frustrated and discouraged.
Luckily, she found Good Shepherd.
Taylor “was always telling me to study very hard, and she gave me paperwork for my regents to study from,” Sanchez said. “When it was time to take the regents, it helped a lot. I was confident.”
Good Shepherd felt like being part of a family that encourages you to never give up Sanchez said. Her actual family isn’t much different, however. Not only were they proud of Sanchez’s accomplishments, but also her determination to earn more than just her diploma.
The organization officially incorporated in 1947, according to its website, but was actually operating nearly a century before that by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in New York City. The program started working with the education department in the 1970s, and now offers 80 programs for underserved children and families.
“Ariana was great, and she always took advantage of everything we were offering and what we had there — like trips and community service,” Taylor said. “She was always open to that.”
Today, Sanchez has no intention on slowing down. She wants to study child education at Hostos Community College. Through her Good Shepherd experience, Sanchez discovered the importance of a degree, and hopes to one day earn her master’s so she can become a teacher.
“A high school diploma helps you start your career,” Sanchez said. “You can go to college with it. You can be someone with potential. Whoever is thinking about dropping out in high school, they just need to believe they can do it. And just focus.”
That also means never giving up, even when the going gets tough.
“When I crossed the stage, I felt very proud of myself because sometimes I felt like I wouldn’t make it,” Sanchez said. “I started crying because I couldn’t believe it because I always felt that I was going to drop out. And I actually passed every subject, every regent and I got my diploma.”