Last month volunteers and staff from Portland Public Schools took to the streets in a door-knocking campaign aimed at bringing dropouts back to school. Kervencia Limage was one of the volunteers who turned out to help.
"I thought since I've been there, I could share my personal experience," Limage says. "I wanted students to know that it is possible to take classes when you are working – they (PPS) are very flexible."
Limage was in the middle of her sophomore year at Ft. Vancouver High School when her dad told her they were moving to Portland to live with his new girlfriend and her three children. Leaving behind her childhood friends and the teachers she knew was a blow, she says.
"I was always the good student," she says. "I was doing sports, I knew the teachers, I was a class counselor, peer mediator, all of that. It was like a family. But in Portland everyone was already in their cliques. I made no friends. I didn't play sports.
"I went from loving school to hating it."
Her first day at David Douglas High School went badly, simply because a boy spoke to her. His girlfriend got mad and blamed the new girl.
"I didn't even know who he was," she says. "It was my first day."
The school never felt like home, and when she moved again to Centennial High school, that didn't feel like home either. Sometimes, even home didn't feel like home.
"I was having disagreements with my dad and his girlfriend," she says. "We were two women sharing the same space and it was hard."
Kervencia found a job at McDonalds and moved into a flat with some friends, a decision she calls, "probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life."
She planned to finish her diploma at night school. But she also had another hurdle to leap.
Her father brought the family to the United States from Haiti, when Kervencia was six years old. Her mother stayed in Haiti, as the family settled in Vancouver, Wash. Not until age 17, did she discover she was not a U.S. citizen and didn't have a green card.
It was a shock to learn that if she wanted to live, study and work in the United States, she would need a green card. And to pay for it she would need to save $2,000 and apply before she reached the age of 21.
So with only two credits to go, Kervencia decided to focus on working and saving instead of school.
Luckily, she says, PPS Reconnection outreach specialist Cheryl James heard her story and told her, "You only need two classes for your diploma? Girl you have to do this."
James and Jeremy Kingsbury are experts at finding the programs that will work best for each student – even those who need many more credits. Last year they reached out to 1,275 students, to tell them about the new options that can make it easier to finish school. Flexible hours and childcare are available for students who work and for pregnant and parenting students. The effort is part of a major push by Portland Public Schools to increase the numbers of students who get that precious diploma.
Kervencia completed her classes through the Alliance program at Benson High School. Now open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., the program graduated 33 students this year, and 17 are already in college.
With financial help from two teachers as well as her own earnings, she was able to save enough to apply for her green card, which should arrive in the mail any day now. She credits the reconnection staff and the Alliance teachers for putting her back on track to succeed.
"They are awesome," she says. "And Alliance helped me a lot. At a regular school it would never have worked for me because I had to work and provide for myself."
Now working as a cook in a senior care home, Kervencia plans to go to community college and pursue her dream of studying criminal justice and working with youth in the justice system.
I want to be a probation officer and work with kids," she says. "I've come a long way from being that rebellious teenager. My relationship with my dad is really good now. He's actually proud of me."
To find out how Portland Public Schools Reconnection Program can help you get your high school diploma, contact Jeremy Kingsbury or Cheryl James at 503-916-3956 or email [email protected]