Former Dropouts Push Others To Reach Finish Line Learning Works charter school in California takes an unorthodox approach to getting young people to graduate. Students who had previously dropped out get mentors who help with everything from getting to class on time to staying up late studying. Now, some of those who graduated are helping others.
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Former Dropouts Push Others To Reach Finish Line

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Former Dropouts Push Others To Reach Finish Line

Former Dropouts Push Others To Reach Finish Line

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As another school year comes to an end, it's time for our final conversation from StoryCorps National Teachers Initiative.


GREENE: Since September, we've been sharing stories about teachers and their students. And today, we hear how one teacher's devotion is helping kids graduate. Mikala Rahn is the founder for Learning Works. It's a charter school in Pasadena, California for kids who've dropped out of traditional schools. At StoryCorps, Mikala sat down with one of the first students she helped, Carlos Cruz.

CARLOS CRUZ: I remember walking into my senior year and then realizing I was two years behind and you looking at me and telling me everything's going to be OK and me looking back at you. I'm like, how the (bleep) do you think everything's going to be OK?

MIKALA RAHM: Optimism, hope, come on.

CRUZ: Yeah. That last year, I worked harder than I ever, ever have even thought of even working. I had never really ever felt in my lifetime that I learned until those days when I was actually at your house tutoring. And I think we were there sometimes until two in the morning. And I remember you telling us that, you know, your goal was to help us achieve our high school diploma. And till this day, I honestly have my diploma in my trunk. It goes with me everywhere I go.


RAHM: It does?

CRUZ: For me, that was I think the biggest thing I've ever done.


GREENE: Carlos Cruz now works at the school Mikala Rahn founded. He's one of several employees called chasers. They basically do what Mikala did for Carlos - make sure that kids get to class, turn in assignments and study for their tests. Many chasers were dropouts themselves and a few have been to prison, like Dominick Correy, who served time for burglary. Dominick often works alongside Carlos, and here the two of them talk about their job.

CRUZ: Every chaser has a load of about 35 students. And the main goal of everything we do is to eliminate any and every excuse that they can imagine to why they're not attempting to achieve their high school diploma.

DOMINICK CORREY: A chaser, you're a mentor, you're a parent, you're an alarm clock, as some people say, a truant officer.

CRUZ: Did you ever in your mind think that helping kids finish school was going to be your job at any point?

CORREY: I've never thought going to jail I'd be able to come back and work at a school. I never thought somebody would even give me a chance to work with human beings. It was like I terrorized the streets of Pasadena for so long and I lost six years in jail all together. So, I think if I save one kid from getting shot or if I save one kid from going to jail, I feel like my six years meant something.


GREENE: That's Carlos Cruz with Dominick Correy at StoryCorps. Now, Dominick also spoke with one of his students, Anthony Gonzales. Anthony was partially paralyzed when he was injured in a drive-by shooting.

ANTHONY GONZALES: Four years ago, I got shot in the back of the head, and after the bullet hit I felt, like, boiling hot water just go down my spinal cord all the way down to my shoes. And I remember falling to the ground, my head bouncing off of the ground and then blacking out for a little bit. And I guess that's when I died. 'Cause the doctor I died for, like, 27 seconds. I remember being inside of the ambulance, you know, the paramedic pounding on my chest and asking my questions like where do I live? What's my house number? And then after that, I just fell into a coma.

CORREY: How long were you out of school?

GONZALES: Two years.

CORREY: Do you remember your first day here?

GONZALES: Yeah. I walked in, limping. I saw everybody staring at me and I was like, I don't think I want to come here no more. And then I met you.

CORREY: How many times that I came early in the morning to come pick you up? You don't answer your phone so I come knock on the door.

GONZALES: Can't even brush your teeth. Can't even go to the bathroom. It's just hurry up. We're late already.

CORREY: What do you think of me?

GONZALES: You're always been cool with me, straight-up. You were one of us. You went through the (bleep) that we went through. You know, and I see you now as a brother.

CORREY: What do you want for me to do this year to help you graduate?

GONZALES: Don't ease up now. Now, is when I need you the most.

CORREY: If I have to bug you all day and all night to get that work done, then I'm going to do it. 'Cause when you walk across that stage, I'm going to be the first one jumping for joy.


GREENE: Anthony Gonzales with Dominick Correy in Pasadena. And we can tell you that earlier this week, Anthony did graduate. To see photos from that commencement and also to learn more about StoryCorps National Teachers Initiative, you can visit


GREENE: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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