It was a chance meeting that brought Hayley Rico to our school. She was 17 years old, taking care of herself and her little brother because their parents who suffered from addiction were unable to properly provide for them. She had been kicked out of school for not attending regularly and was turned away from other schools because she had no permanent address to provide. Hayley happened to be at a community services event, and that evening two staff members from our school were there to talk about the school. Hayley enrolled the next day.

The extra help and flexible schedule made it easy for Hayley to meet with teachers and complete her assignments – all while caretaking and working two jobs. Its personalized learning model is tailored to each student’s individual needs and interests. Students focus on one or two subjects at a time and meet with teachers, tutors and counselors for instruction and support.

“My biggest challenge was staying in one place long enough to focus on my schoolwork. I was always on the move,” she said, recalling when her dad was deported to Mexico rather than face 20 years of incarceration. “My mom uprooted my little brother and me to Tijuana, where we didn’t always have a place to stay. I had to mature quickly, making sure bills got paid and the utilities stayed on.”

Hayley crossed the border every day at 3 a.m. to work two jobs, go to school, and take her brother to his school – all on public transportation. She did her homework on busses, trolleys and while standing in pedestrian wait lines at the U.S. border. “I did that for two years before I made the crucial decision of leaving my parents and becoming independent. Attending this school allowed me to work on my schoolwork whenever and wherever I could,” she added.

Her perseverance paid off – she graduated and earned a spot in the first cohort of the Civic Literacy and Media Influence Fellowship, a 12-week course offered to just four students that included a $1,000 scholarship. She learned the fundamentals of journalism, editorial narrative, public policy, government and storytelling through experiential, project-based and lecture modules.

She plans to start at a community college and then transfer to a four-year university to study child development to become a family social worker. Hayley is determined to become a first-generation college graduate and pave a path for her future children to excel.

Hayley said that skills she gained in school – independence, time management and consistency – have helped her beyond graduation. Her advice to current high school students? “Do not procrastinate. Stay busy. Do not let friends influence your decisions. It’s your future that you control with the decisions you make every day, and you must protect it at all costs. Many things will try to tempt and entice you to make the wrong decisions, but just stay focused and strong. Keep looking forward to where you want to be in 5, 10 or 20 years.”

Written By:
Ann Abajian