Have you ever eaten green chicken? Taken cold showers with other people and been locked in a cell 16 hours a day? That was just part of the horror for Ali N., 15 years old and serving time in juvenile hall. He had been running with the wrong crowd and got arrested and sentenced to probation at home. Rather than changing his behavior, he cut off his ankle monitor and went back to getting into trouble. He was re-arrested and had to serve several months in juvenile hall. “It was just horrible, and I couldn’t stand it or myself. I knew I needed to clean my act up and stop being so emotional and impulsive,” he said. “When I got out, I decided it was time to go back to school and listen to my father.”

He found our school and instantly loved it. Even though he had only five credits and a criminal record, the staff treated him with the same respect and caring they do for all students. “My teacher, Mrs. K, helped me with everything, and I just can’t imagine that I would have accomplished so much without my family and her by my side,” Ali explained. “Mrs. K truly cared for me, and sometimes I cry thinking about the kindness, love and acceptance she showed me in such a dark time in my life.”

Even though Ali was on the right path, the terms of his probation cut him off from all his friends and even his brother. He describes a dark tunnel searching for the end of the tunnel, and his teacher being the flashlight to lead his way out.

“My teachers helped me weather through it all and made me smile in the morning,” he said. “They helped me learn to love myself and value myself more. They helped me in so many ways that if I hadn’t gone to this school, I would be in a jail cell or a coffin right now.”

Ali was able to complete more than 12 to 16 credits a month and graduate in two years with a 3.64 GPA. He was one of just six students chosen for a Civic Literacy & Media Influence Fellowship, a 12-week program where students learn fundamentals in journalism, editorial narrative and storytelling through experiential, project-based and lecture modules. He was awarded a $1,000 scholarship for successfully completing the program.

Ali is currently pursuing a business degree at a community college and has big dreams to start multiple businesses and continue to educate himself on a variety of topics. “I want to live my fullest life while contributing to society and helping the rest of the world. I want to create smiles and happy lives. I want to help other achieve the best in life.”

Written By:
Ann Abajian