Disconnected young person finds school success through United Way-supported program

March 18, 2018
United Way of the Greater Triangle-funded support specialist Rotcelis Morales helps alternative school graduate Will Horn apply for a college scholarship.

Will Horn loves math, science and developing computer games, and he traditionally did well in school.

But turmoil on the home front as he was entering ninth grade derailed his high school career.

Financial problems forced Will and his mother to move out of their home into her beauty salon as he began ninth grade.

Will lived in a small, closet-like space, crowded with all the possessions he could pack in. The two were then forced from that location and homeless for a period. She ultimately moved in with a friend; Will moved in with his grandmother.

The stress and unsettling circumstances took a toll. Will failed ninth grade, moved to a new school to repeat ninth grade, then dropped out of that school after half a year. He enrolled in an online program and was making good grades, but depression kicked in and he dropped out of that program after six months.

“It was never the case of not being able to do the work,” Will, now 18, recalls. “But pretty much the entire time, I was in kind of a phase of depression. I was in a rut, and it built up to where I stopped doing the work.”

Two years passed, and something inside prompted Will to make a move. “I realized I really wanted to go to school to learn something I care about and have credit to back that up. I wanted to go to college.”

Fortunately, Will found Achievement Academy of Durham, one of four academic recovery program partners that collaborate in a United Way of the Greater Triangle-funded initiative, called Durham Futures, part of the Made in Durham education-to-career community partnership.

Four Durham Futures program partners – Achievement Academy of Durham, Durham Public Schools’ Performance Learning Center, Durham Technical Community College’s Gateway to College program and Durham Literacy Center – pilot a range of academic, career and social supports for “opportunity youth” – those who are disconnected from school and work – ages 14-24. The goal is to help these students earn high school diplomas or equivalent credentials, transition to and persist in a post-secondary degree or credential program that qualifies them for life-sustaining work.

United Way funds two staff positions that provide college- and career-readiness interventions for students in the four programs.  The two provide college and career preparation, work-based learning and social supports for about 150 students, like Will, each year. 

At Achievement Academy, Will found success thanks to staff who helped him connect his interests to his school work and supported his persistence. He earned a GED within seven months, graduating in November 2017. And in January, he enrolled in Durham Technical Community College. Now on his way to an associates degree in science, Will hopes to transfer to N.C. State University’s engineering program upon completion.

Meanwhile, he returns to Achievement Academy every week “because I like what they are doing.” He tutors students in math and science, and he continues getting support from that community. On a recent day, one of the United Way-funded specialists helped Will apply for a scholarship to cover tuition and fees.

“What’s going for me now would not exist without this place and the people here,” Will says. “This place really stood out. The people stood out. It was what I was looking for along.”

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