PDX Bridge: Jason's Story

Thursday, November 16, 2017



Jason has a beaming, infectious smile. He loves the musical Wicked, performing at Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings, and he was considering being his favorite Harry Potter character for Halloween.


Even though it was only his first week of classes at Portland Community College, he showed my colleague and me around the campus like it was a second home, sharing his favorite hang outs in Tabor Hall and the garden just off Division Street. His confidence wasn’t just a personality trait; Jason was comfortable at the college, in large part due to being a graduate of PDX Bridge, a dual enrollment program that is a partnership between Gateway to College National Network (GtCNN) and PCC.


“A lot of students go into college not knowing how to utilize resources at the college and not knowing how to study for their classes and be successful in general,” Jason said. “PDX Bridge really taught me and my classmates how to be successful, which is a lot of pressure. I know, for myself, I would never have been prepared.”


PDX Bridge helps students who have experienced homelessness, juvenile justice, or foster care with wraparound support while they earn their high school diploma and enter college or an apprenticeship. GtCNN connects existing support services from 37 regional partners to build this one-of-a-kind bridge program serving Oregon’s most vulnerable student populations.


PDX Bridge launched in 2016, and it has already had a marked impact on college-going rates amongst its students. Of the graduates from the initial cohort, 87% are enrolled at PCC or another college for fall term, an enrollment rate that is more than four times the national average college-going rate for foster youth.


“In PDX Bridge, there’s a lot of focus on showing students support and teaching them how they can help themselves be better at getting an education, which is a skill I think a lot of students go into college without,” Jason said. “They aren’t just there to give you a grade and have you move on; they’re definitely there to form a relationship with you and help you become a better student and a better person.”


Growing up in rural Indiana, Jason was homeschooled. When he began attending public high school, he realized he was behind and struggled to keep up. When he came out as transgender, his family wasn’t supportive, and he eventually dropped out of high school. He moved with extended family to Oregon and attended a few schools, but the barriers to graduation seemed to stack up.


“I’ve had a ton of struggles in my life and things that made it really hard, and there were so many times when I thought I would never make it and would give up,” Jason said. “But with help and some support, I’ve realized I can do anything I want to do.”


Learning to find and get help was key to getting his education back on track. His College Success Coach in the program, Allison Trowbridge, helped him access some of the resources he had available through PDX Bridge.


“Jason just has this strength and boldness. He’s going to accomplish everything he sets out to,” Allison said. “By the time he reached PDX Bridge, he knew exactly what he wanted, and he really knew the value of this program and has seized every opportunity that has come his way.”


Allison’s role is to be part advisor, part instructor, and part champion to help students reach their goals. In PDX Bridge, Jason found educational support, but also a community of caring adults and peers who all wanted him to succeed.


“The people with PDX Bridge are so supportive and so helpful and so open,” Jason said. “It definitely makes it less daunting going to school, because you know you have somebody you can actually trust who’s going to help you and wants you to succeed.”


Jason plans to finish his associate’s degree at PCC and then transfer to a university to study Environmental Science and Fashion. He can’t decide which he likes more, but he hopes to combine the two to improve conditions for workers in clothing manufacturing. Next year, he’ll travel to Africa through the study abroad program, Carpe Mundi, something he’s always wanted to do.


We’re excited to see what bright, promising PDX Bridge students like Jason accomplish.


Gateway Student Profile: David

Thursday, April 06, 2017

David Thain is a Gateway to College student at Riverside City College in Riverside, California. 


David loves parables and analogies. During our conversation, he brought up the story of Icarus as an illustration of missed opportunity. And he compared education to water: in order for water to be useful, you need to know how to utilize it, not merely that it exists. David says that when he was young he couldn’t wait to grow up. Now, with newfound curiosity, he wants to take advantage of his educational opportunities to learn as much as he can. After he finishes the Gateway to College program at Riverside Community College, David plans to complete his general requisite credits at Riverside before transferring to UC Berkeley to study environmental engineering, chemistry, or linguistics.


Not long ago, David’s outlook on education was very different. He started kindergarten normally but, by the end of grade school, he was getting into fights. In middle school, things became more difficult and he no longer wanted to attend school. David started ditching, drinking, and hanging out with the wrong people. These activities pulled him away from an “I can do it” mentality. Throughout 8th grade and freshman year, David didn’t leave the house. He spent his days watching anime instead. In sophomore year he started school again but stopped caring after one month. This manifested into skipping half days and eventually ditching the entire school day with friends. During all of this, David was going through major changes in his home life. His mother died when he was fourteen. His brother became involved in gangs, and his father moved the family to a new neighborhood for a fresh start. For those closest to David, education was regarded as an obligation, not as an opportunity. Growing up, he knew that he was expected to complete school, but he did not see this happening with everyone around him.


By senior year, David didn’t know how he was going to complete high school. There was a requirement of 225 credits to graduate and he had earned 10. One day his counselor, Mr. Estes, mentioned Gateway to College. David was immediately interested because of the chance to attend college classes. At Gateway, David slid into his old habit of procrastination until, after three months, he was given an ultimatum: complete two units by the original due date. In most cases, it takes two weeks to complete two units worth of work. David was given a single day to finish. This ultimatum marked a turning point for him. David completed the assignment on time and began to understand something that he had not at traditional high schools: “If I don’t figure out how to learn to the best of my ability, then I won’t learn."


David credits Gateway with teaching him a sense of responsibility; he enjoys the feeling of accomplishment that accompanies a finished assignment or task. This makes him recognize and appreciate his power. At traditional schools David felt that he was merely given a pen and paper and then blended in with a bunch of other students. In contrast, he feels welcome at Gateway to College and likes that he is treated as an adult. Counselors’ doors at Gateway are always open to him: “If something is upsetting, they take the time to sit with me, understand my level, and explain things”. After joining the Gateway to College community, David learned that he is not the only one who has struggled with school, lost a parent, and rejected opportunities. David knows that his past is often misunderstood, but he also knows that his community of support has helped him and taught him to better represent himself. One of the biggest lessons that he’s learned is that, before doing something, you need to imagine yourself doing it. David imagines himself working in the sciences, and likens his own transformational experience to terraformation of planets. After completing his degree in a scientific field, terraform machines may transition from a metaphor for life into his future career.



Gateway Grads: Alexander's Story

Thursday, October 13, 2016
When Alexander entered high school at Portland’s DeLasalle North High School, he recalled that high school was the next step on his educational journey, and he was excited to play sports. Like many teenagers, however, life threw a curveball. His parents had divorced just a few months prior, and the transition to high school proved difficult. Alexander didn’t have a strong sense of self-worth, and found himself leaving school after only a year. He tried a computer-based program for a short time, before enrolling into Portland’s LEAP Academy and struggling through for nearly two years.
“I didn’t have many positive role models or close relationships with faculty, and I was hanging around a group of friends who weren’t a positive influence,” Alexander said, in describing his time at LEAP. Ultimately, he was kicked out of the school for fighting. A few months later, Alexander was in front of his house playing basketball. A neighbor approached and asked why he wasn’t in school. It turned out the neighbor was a Gateway to College graduate from the Portland Community College (PCC) program. He encouraged Alexander to apply to Gateway to College, which he eventually did. “At a time that many of my friends were beginning college, it really struck me that it would be a pathway into college,” says Alexander.
In Gateway to College, Alexander found the peers he had always been seeking. The Gateway to College faculty and staff served as strong mentors, and access to college-level classes helped Alexander better envision his future. “The interactions made me feel I was truly cared about,” Alexander described. “When you feel love and support outside of the family, it can have an even greater impact on your life.”
Alexander graduated from Gateway to College, and continued to pursue his associate degree at Portland Community College. He served as a leader in the Black Student Union, and found another mentor through the African-American Men’s Scholar Project in Dr. General Johnson. Alexander graduated from PCC last spring, and now attends Portland State University. Alexander is determined to act as a mentor to other motivated young people and serve as a role model for graduating high school and working toward postsecondary success. 

Gateway at QCC Graduate Speech: Alexis

Friday, July 29, 2016

Like many Gateway to College students, Alexis’ journey to graduation was complicated. Through perseverance, belief in herself, and support from her community, Alexis overcame multiple hurdles to receive her high school diploma this spring through the Quinsigamond Gateway to College program. Alexis was the speaker at the school’s commencement, and she later shared her speech in front of her local school board, as a way to encourage support for more out-of-school and off-track youth in her community. We encourage you to spend a few minutes to read Alexis’ words, and gain a greater appreciation of the incredible students served by Gateway to College programs. See the video of her speech at 1:37 here.
So, when I sat down to write this thing, I had all of these ideas in my head of what a perfect graduation speech should be like, and I was picturing Lizzie McGuire stumbling across the stage after Kate Sanders calls her out for being an “outfit repeater,” or Troy Bolton talking about how we really are “all in this together." Then I kind of snapped out of it and realized the only graduation speeches I had ever seen were from Disney movies, and it probably wasn’t going to be as easy or comical as they made it seem. So, naturally I went into panic mode for a little bit and scrolled through Google for hours researching perfect speech writing techniques. I eventually calmed down when I realized if anyone was going to care about a pristine alternative high school commencement speech, it for sure wasn’t going to be this group of kids.
Starting now we have more important things to worry about, like financial aid, our careers, or who’s going to give us our weekly kick in the butt when we start slacking, that we all may have complained about, but when really without it, we probably wouldn’t be crossing this stage today. So Marci, Jenna, Vanessa – on behalf of all of us, we can’t even begin to thank you enough for all that you do, not only to keep this program alive, but for caring so much about each of our individual successes and doing whatever it takes to help us get there. You have instilled a new drive and passion toward our education in each of us that will continue on with us in all of our future endeavors.
Speaking of the future, there’s a quote that really struck me when I was reading about “second chances” one day by Steve Blank, a professor at Philadelphia University. He says, “People talk about getting lucky breaks in their careers. I’m living proof that the ‘lucky breaks’ theory is simply wrong. You get to make your own luck. The world is run by those who show up, not those who wait to be asked.” What this made me realize, and what I hope that my fellow classmates will remember as well, is that as much as Gateway to College has seemed like a dream second chance or lucky break to us, we have worked hard to be where we are right now, and that it's okay to glorify your own success. Always be thankful and humble, but also be prideful, as pride can be one of our greatest motivators. Remember that nothing in life is handed to you and you may not always be given a second chance in the future. Take every opportunity that comes to you because you have worked for it and now you're being rewarded.
It goes without saying that High School obviously wasn’t the best years of any of our lives. Whether it was physical or mental illness, family problems, or anything in between, we are all here simply because traditional high school just was not going to work for us, and personally it felt like I went through hell a dozen times and back. To summarize my four year long story in the shortest way possible, the summer going into my sophomore year, I made the decision to move from the high school I had attended the previous year, back to my hometown high school. I had decided that the negative energy and bad influences weren’t good for me to be surrounded by. Late August comes around and school starts again. I ended up getting appendicitis and had to miss the first month in my new school due to surgery. This set me back so far that there was almost no coming back from it, no matter how hard I tried. Still, with every complication, I managed to pass and move on to junior year. However, I was 10 credits short because of my absences due to the surgery. This didn’t worry me too much because Marlborough High has a credit recovery program. With the new school year approaching I put myself in a positive, motivated mindset and was ready to take on whatever came my way. I didn’t expect depression to get thrown at me. The mental illness quickly took over my life in the winter of my junior year. I was suffering in silence because I did not know how to express what was wrong with me and I had convinced myself that it wasn’t fair for anyone else to have to deal with my burdens. I missed school at least once a week and my teachers treated me like I was a nuisance when I asked for extra help.
Once again, I was falling behind. Even though I probably shouldn’t have, by some miracle I passed and made it to senior year. But the depression never got dealt with. Towards the end of my junior year, my family and I experienced an unexpected move to Hudson. My other siblings all had to transfer to Hudson schools, but because I had only one  year of school left, they told me I would  be allowed to stay and graduate with my classmates. It's the first day of senior year, and I get called into the Vice Principal's office. She tells me that I need to transfer to Hudson High school immediately, that Marlborough doesn’t have school choice and she does not know why I was led to believe I was allowed to stay. This became a huge problem because not only does Hudson High have higher credit and graduation requirements but they have no credit recovery program either. So going into my third high school, I needed to somehow make up the 10 credits I was missing, but also fulfill these new requirements. I signed up for 4, maybe 5 extra classes and was told that even if I passed all of those classes there would be a chance that I still would not have enough credits to graduate on time.
Through all of this my mother was married to an abusive alcoholic. We were living in a seemingly never ending inescapable cycle. In October of 2014 my mom decided enough was enough. We had no choice but to leave, for our own safety, with no money and where to go, and became homeless for almost 4 months. So with being homeless, having depression, and dealing with extra classes, my life was a bit of a mess. It interfered with my school work because I was always so worried about what was going to happen next and I did not have a reliable computer or internet. Not to mention, Hudson High did not know how to properly accommodate someone in such a rare situation. I was falling even more behind. Although I wasn’t going to graduate on time, or with my class, I had accepted the reality of my situation, and decided to make use of the resources available to me and, finish at my own pace.
That's when Gateway to College came into my life. Both semesters I have spent here have been very chaotic and filled with a lot of change for my family and I, but at this point we can pretty much handle anything thrown at us. This past semester I was hospitalized for my depression and finally diagnosed. I got the help I needed, but was missing school and falling behind again. After the hospital, I got pneumonia and missed even more school. I almost gave up and just decided to drop out because the universe obviously does not want me getting my diploma. I then decided to take a step back and really look at my situation. If I really wasn’t meant to graduate, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. I looked at everything that was happening to me as a defeatable challenge rather than a block in the road and decided to power through and finish the semester as best I could. Here I am, 4 years later, with a B average GPA, telling you all my story and feeling stronger than ever.
I want to take a minute to thank all of the people who helped me through this long, complicated process of getting my Uxbridge High School diploma, which is ironic because I don't think any of us have ever even set foot in that building. Anyway, to my Dad, thank you for not letting me give up, thank you for having faith in me when I had none in myself and for pushing me to want more for myself. Mom, thank you for being one of the only people who understood how hard school was for me and loving me even on my worst days. To my grandparents, thank you for making it your mission to help me through Gateway. Without your support and rides to class every day, I wouldn't be standing here right now. Lana, Charlotte and Timmy, you three are my sole motivation for everything I do. Whether you guys realize it or not you make me want to be a better person every day. Thank you for being my best friends. To my friends who I’ve known throughout high school, you guys experienced the hell with me so thank you for staying by my side no matter what I was going through. Lastly, to the friends that I have met through and since starting the program 2 semesters ago, thank you for being the most accepting, down to earth group of people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I felt more accepted with my peers here at QCC within a few weeks of knowing them than I ever did with 4 years of my classmates at “real” high school.
Anyways, enough sappy stuff before Jenna starts crying…
To the class of 2016, despite every obstacle the universe may have thrown at us during this journey, our pasts our behind us and we’ve finally made it. You have finally made it. Congratulations!

Gateway Graduate, Movement Leader

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tekoa Hewitt stood in front of a room of hundreds of people at the Ready by 21 Conference in Baltimore last week. He told the audience about how he lost his twin brother as a teenager. He fell into a deep depression, dropped out of high school at 16, and lived on his own in a crime-filled part of Flint. He spent nearly two years working at a pizza shop, but realized that he needed education to change his trajectory. 

"I couldn't continue to live like this every day – the same poverty, the same violence, the same lack of opportunity,” he said to the crowd. “So I decided to enroll in Gateway to College, an amazing program where I earned high school and college credits." 

Tekoa is a recent graduate of Gateway to College at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, and is currently in the honors program at the college. As a member of YouthBuild’s National Council of Young Leaders, Tekoa often speaks about his pathway to reconnecting with his education. 

At the Ready by 21 Conference, Tekoa spoke about how organizations can better meet the needs of out-of-school youth. “I think the way a lot of people like me can recover is by knowing there are supportive people in the community that do want to help people like me, and provide the support that is necessary for young people to escape poverty.” 

Programs like Gateway to College have the power to change lives due to the staff of caring adults who recognize the potential in every young person. “Somebody telling me that ‘You are better than this, you can do more with your life,’ it's really important and that's what you get through a lot of these comprehensive programs. That’s what I got from the Gateway to College program,” he said. “‘You can be more than what you have been,’ they said, and they pushed me to be the best person that I can be. For that I am grateful.”

For a student like Tekoa, an alternative pathway to education allowed him to overcome personal obstacles and recognize the unique skills he possessed. "Maybe not everybody has a college degree, but everybody has skills that can make them productive in society,” continued Tekoa. “There are a lot of individual traits that we all have that if someone can recognize that, it can make a difference in young people’s lives.” 

As he ended his remarks to the room full of leaders, he thanked everyone in attendance for the work they do. “We rely on you. The work you do changes lives.” Tekoa plans to change lives, as well, by attending graduate school and using his education and experience overcoming poverty to impact youth in need. Tekoa is already making a difference by mentoring new Gateway to College students who are transitioning back onto a pathway to a high school diploma.  

Gateway to College was transformative to Tekoa. “I can't believe the person I was then became the person I am now.” Tekoa is paying it forward by transforming the lives of young people and the caring adults who serve them. 

Celebrating Success: Santa Rosa Junior College Joins GtCNN Presidents' Circle

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"A lot of us make mistakes when we're young—but we all deserve a second chance."


At 16, with her mother hospitalized, Jessica quit school to find work so she could take care of her three young siblings. After one year out of the classroom, Jessica realized that returning to school would afford her and her family greater opportunity, but didn’t know where to turn. She found the Gateway to College program at Santa Rosa Junior College in California, enrolled, and became a fiercely determined student. Conquering serious adversity, including childhood drug abuse, she graduated in spring 2015 with a 4.0 GPA. She plans to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology so she can work with teens like herself. Click here to read more about Jessica’s inspiring story.

The Santa Rosa Junior College Gateway to College program sees dozens of students like Jessica each semester walk through their doors. Launching the program in fall of 2013, the college has served more than 100 formerly dropped out high school students over the past two years. A valued member of the Gateway to College National Network Presidents’ Circle, Santa Rosa Junior College is committed to helping disconnected youth in Petaluma County achieve their dreams of education and brighter futures.


Presidents’ Circle membership supports groundbreaking partnerships between colleges and local school districts. Every dollar contributed to Gateway to College National Network leverages $11 in school district funding to support a Gateway student earning her diploma AND college credits. Please join us in celebrating and supporting Santa Rosa Junior College and Gateway to College programs across the nation this fall during the Give Change campaign.

Learn how you can get involved here!

Everybody Will Eventually be a Teacher’s Pet

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Our current research project, Understanding Academic Success, included more than 60 interviews and 20 shadow days with the most successful students in Gateway to College programs[i]. Our goal was to understand what experiences help these students earn their high school diplomas through Gateway to College. Data collection wrapped up in June, and our research team is beginning its analysis. While results will not be available until next year, we have come across several statements that highlight the power of relationships. Gateway to College Resource Specialists, Instructors, and Staff are often cited by our students as being critical to their success.

As the Fall term begins, program staff spend a good deal of their time tracking down students who miss class, assisting students with transportation needs, and just listening when an ear is needed. We wanted to take the opportunity to share what Gateway to College students say about these moments, and how much they contribute to their success in completing high school. To all of our Gateway to College program staff: thank you for making a profound difference in so many lives!

  • I feel like the support that I got right away when I went in there [to the Gateway Orientation] to discuss signing up and what you have to do it. It was like, “Oh my gosh, that would be amazing we’d love to have you, this is what you need to do that”; like welcoming, let us fix what’s going on. That is what made me feel like yes,  someone is actually going to help.

  • Every single student had attention. And that’s one of the main things about Gateway—is that every student, no matter if they are A average, B average, C average, they all get attention and that was really good for me. That helped me out a lot.

  • The counselors seek you out. They come talk to you, and they make you stay involved with the program and also they kind of assist you in helping you figure out what you want to do or if you have any problems.

  • My high school experience wasn’t very good. Gateway is, well, the exact opposite. It’s supportive and it challenges [you].

  • I really learned to like my education.

  • I don’t think there’s anything negative about Gateway to College. It took a failing student to a straight A student, you know.

  • And my government teacher, she’s tough. She doesn’t take any bologna, but if you respect her, she’ll respect you too…Some people don’t realize it now, but she’s actually helping us think about ourselves instead of just writing stuff down.

  • I love the faculty because they’re all so loving and they care about you.

  • I ended up taking a year off so that I could have my son and focus on that …. So in between that time my advisor was keeping in contact with me. If she wouldn’t have, who knows?

  • [Gateway to College is] very life-changing. It changes your whole thought about learning and about going to college, because I never thought I would go to college.

  • My biggest achievement I think… I think it’s more of a personal thing because right now I feel like I’m able to think critically a lot more than I used to.

  • They are just more on top of you. They give you a lot of time to do the work, but if they see you not doing anything, because I do sometimes do that. I try to get good grades, but they will talk to me about it. Or if I am disrupting the class, if I am talking, because I talk a lot...so that’s pretty good…and the counselors are all pretty cool.

  • What I like is, like I don’t know just the size. The one-on-ones. The relationships that you grow while being there.

  • They [Gateway Staff] make you feel like it’s a family.

  • All the teachers will let you know that they’re there for you. They won’t let you fail.

  • I really like how supportive everybody is and I like how realistic they are about it. In that first quarter they didn’t like fluff anything. They were like this is going to be hard, this is going to be challenging, and you are going to have to put your effort forward and put your best in and I really like how they were honest and they were supportive of you.

  • They won’t give up on you. No matter if you give up on yourself. No matter how hard you try to give up. They will stay pushing you.

  • [At] high school I believe they sort of give more attention to the students that are doing better. That’s why they call them teacher’s pets. So things like that. With Gateway everybody will eventually be a teacher’s pet. Eventually. I guarantee it.

This research is funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York

[i] Students were eligible for the study if they had a 3.0 college GPA as of January 2015, and had been in Gateway to College for at least two terms. Interviews were conducted by phone or video chat. Shadows were done in person. 

Student Profiles: Metropolitan Community College

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Gateway to College at Metropolitan Community College is made up of students from all backgrounds. Most of our students face serious struggles, but many of them rise above and find success. These student profiles present a picture of how our students persist and ultimately graduate.

“I think the program was a good fit for me because it had everything to help me accomplish my goals I wanted to accomplish. It helped me get started on my college career.” -Felicia

Jennie became a GtC student in the fall of 2012 and will graduate this spring. She left traditional high school to care for her family. Jennie was very close to finishing her graduation requirements when she made this decision and came to us as an eager 20-year-old with a history of great grades and honors classes. She spent two quarters working with GtC to finish her last few credits and begin her college career, while working part time to support her family. Her strong work ethic and personality will continue to help her as she pursues her academic interests after graduation.

TaQuila joined the GtC program in the fall of 2012. She really did not need very many credits to graduate but was eager to be in college and reengage with her education. She didn’t always fit in the high school classroom and found every reason she could to skip class and stay home. The small environment and quiet halls of the GtC building were alluring to TaQuila as she came to learn about the program. She found success in the college classes she took and is eager to walk at commencement and begin her studies in health care.

“Gateway has helped me find where I want to be in life and helped me find the steps necessary to get me there.” -Steve

Gerard came to GtC after finding himself too far behind to graduate high school on time. Gerard takes on a lot of responsibilities, but continues to grow each quarter. He works a number of jobs, is involved in his parish, is a diligent student, and loves his roles in his family. Gerard’s dedication to his job and genuine eagerness to please earned him a newspaper story and a national award for job excellence. Gerard is on target to graduate.

Amber just had a child. She started the GtC program in the spring of 2012 and plans to graduate this summer. Since becoming a mom, Amber has decided to step up her credit earning abilities and has worked with multiple alternative pathways to finish up what she started so many years ago. Her drive has earned her acceptance to a local university. She is so excited to transfer credits and continue her academic career in the fall.

“Gateway to College was the perfect option for me since high school wasn’t. The values and habits taught to me will follow me everywhere I go.” -Jose

In Her Words: Kayla's Story

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

MWCC-Kayla-by-herself-ADJEach individual is very different from one another. This makes experiences and obstacles different for each student. Academics was never the problem for me. While English was my toughest subject I was still able to complete the work to make satisfactory requirements. However, I did struggle with my health. Since the age of thirteen I have dealt with reoccurring kidney stones and infections. Due to my illness, I missed several days of school and was bullied for being different. Because my illness was not visible many students did not understand and assumed I was lying to gain attention. In addition, in the beginning of my senior year of high school I discovered that I was pregnant. This only made my health concerns worse and I developed several new ones. I needed to be induced at only 32 weeks gestation due to severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. To add to my long list of complications, this happened in the middle of my spring semester. Even though, I had a rough senior year I was able to still pass my classes and graduate on time. Through all of this, I still tried to stay connected to my education.

I did my best to attend my classes and complete my work on time. It was not easy but I managed. I even tried to continue working as a waitress at a local bar. It was difficult to stay on my feet for long periods of time but I certainly needed the money to be able to provide for my son. Unfortunately, I did have to end volunteering at my local hospital. As much as I enjoyed what I accomplished there it became too hard to continue classes, working, and volunteering through my difficult pregnancy and stressful last year of high school. Through all of this I tried very hard to remain positive and focus on accomplishing my goals.

I am very grateful to have completed high school all while being only two classes away from my associate's degree. Looking back, joining Gateway to College was the best decision I have ever made. However, I do not plan to stop here. My goal is to gain my associates degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences then transfer to a four year institution to further my education as a pre-medical major. As this career path will then require graduate school.

Graduations are truly something to celebrate. A contribution to Gateway to College National Network helps more pathways open for students like Kayla. It’s so easy! Give now

Identical Story, Different Dreams: Ashley and Alisha's Story

Monday, June 15, 2015

STLCC-Ashley-and-Alisha-Faces-of-STLCCFlorissant Valley Campus. Originally published on St. Louis Community College's blog

Ashley and Alisha, identical twins from North County, were just 16 when they dropped out of high school. They had lost their mother to breast cancer, and all hope.

“Growing up, Mum made sure that school came first before anything else,” said Ashley. “When she passed, everything changed.”

The twins dropped out because family support ceased and financial issues arose. They took minimum wage jobs at Ponderosa and kept chugging along for three years until they realized that they were at a dead end.

“I was trying to look up GED information online and information about Gateway to College popped up,” said Alisha. “I called and found out that we still had the opportunity to get our high school diplomas even though we had been out of school for three years.”

A promise, a commitment, and a few checked boxes later, both were admitted to the Gateway to College program at St. Louis.

Gateway to College has programs in 42 colleges in 23 states. Through the program, formerly dropped out high school students are able to complete their diploma requirements on a college campus while simultaneously earning credits toward a college degree or certificate. In addition to covering tuition costs, the program also pays for student fees and books.

Ashley said the one-on-one support was phenomenal.

“Getting a diploma or going to university was something beyond our reach,” she said. “We didn’t know how to get to that point but the program helped us get there.”

Added Alisha: “Without Gateway to College, we’d still be saying, ‘Baked potato or fries’ or ‘How would you like your steak done?’”

Wendell Covington, program director, said STLCC currently serves the Ferguson-Florissant, Normandy, Ritenour and Riverview Gardens school districts. Forty students are enrolled in the program, which takes about two to three years to complete. Covington said all the college courses have been aligned to meet high school and college graduation requirements.

Each student receives a detailed, individualized academic plan and ongoing support from a resource specialist who serves as coach, mentor and adviser. During the students’ first semester, they take classes exclusively with other Gateway to College students, including a college success course that focuses on study habits, time management, test-taking strategies and other techniques for succeeding in college. After the first semester, students are mainstreamed into courses with other college students, but continue receiving intensive academic and social supports.

Students complete the Gateway to College program when they have enough high school credits to earn their diploma; however, they are strongly encouraged and supported to complete their associate degree. Students receive diplomas from the last school district they attended.

To date, STLCC’s Gateway to College program has served 133 students in the suburban North County school districts. Covington said they have a graduation rate of 32 percent, 1 percent higher than the national network average.

“We could not have done it without Mr. Covington, Christine Meyer, Terri Buford and the entire Gateway to College family at Florissant Valley,” both twins said. “They gave us everything we needed to succeed.”

The twins received their high school diploma in 2012 and have been accepted to Southeast Missouri State University. Ashley plans to major in education while Alisha plans to major in criminal justice.

“You can see the growth in them academically and socially,” Covington said. “That’s what the program is all about.”

STLCC’s Gateway to College program began serving students at its Florissant Valley campus in fall 2008. As the first dropout recovery program in Missouri that also provides students with college credit, Gateway to College is meeting a critical need in the region.

The program is supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wal mart Foundation, Edna McConnel Clark Foundation, Citi, Express Scripts, AT&T, St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis and Better Family.

By Rachel Gomez

Graduations are truly something to celebrate. A contribution to Gateway to College National Network helps more pathways open for students like Ashley and Alisha. It’s so easy! Give now


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