Three seniors in the Hartford Public Schools system from different countries of origin and family circumstances share at least three qualities – having grown up feeling loved, appreciation for their teachers and ambition for their futures. They’re students at Hope Academy, an alternative high school inside the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford for 11th and 12th graders who need support to stay on track for graduation and benefit from smaller classes taught by HPS teachers. These students agreed to share their stories to give a window into their lives to the adults who work to help students like them reach their potential.
When Patrick Munoz moved to Hartford with his mother, step-father and brothers as a first-grader from Puerto Rico, he didn’t speak English, but felt fluent by second grade. Now 19, he’s grateful to his mother for helping him transfer to the smaller, more personal high school when he was a sophomore.
While a student at Hartford High, “I was slacking off a lot, not doing what I needed to do,” says Munoz. He likes the quieter classrooms and a schedule that allows him to work weeknight shifts at a store near Westfarms. He gives his mom, who works as a store manager for Michaels crafts, money for gas to drive him to work and for Internet service, he says. His mother and step-father divorced when he was in eighth grade, but he’s still in touch with his step-father.
Munoz is thinking of going to technical school to learn how to fix electronics, but he’s not so sure about college. “My mom, she tries to influence me to go to college. I’m edgy about it,” he says. In addition to her retail job, his mother has a cake making business and makes jewelry, and tells him she wishes she had gone to college.
Samira Pena wants to become a veterinarian, and plans to start at Capital Community College after graduating this spring, transfer after two years to Central Connecticut State University, followed by “whatever veterinarian college accepts me,” she says. “Animals have always been my passion” and math and science are her favorite subjects, she says.
She has lived in Hartford, East Hartford and Florida. Pena, 19, remembers as a child, while living with her mother, going hungry at the end of the month when the food stamps ran out. Her mother is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 10 years, she says, and relies on public assistance. Pena describes her father as a functioning alcoholic who is able to work. She lived with him in Florida from aged 14 to 16, she says, then moved back to Hartford to live with her grandmother.
Regardless of her parents’ struggles, she says, “I did feel loved no matter what.” Her parents didn’t try to poison her against each other, and her grandmother cared for her when she lived with her.
Pena works for a cleaning company up to 20 hours a week and says she appreciates the attentive environment at Hope Academy. “I really turned it around when I came here. I love it,” she says. “They give you an opportunity to work at your own pace.”
Jefar McPherson likes learning and his favorite subjects are science and English. He has several career interests and hasn’t decided yet which one to pursue – going into the Airforce to work on airplane engines or become a pilot, becoming a lawyer because he likes debating or a real estate agent like one of his relatives because “it’s one of the best ways or safest ways to accumulate wealth without having a college degree.”
His parents want him to go to college, he says. His mother cares for elderly people and his father works for the U.S. Postal Service, but neither went to college and they want more for him. His family moved to the area from Jamaica when he was 11.
McPherson, 19, works at Family Dollar after school until closing, but hopes to soon get a job at Amazon because it pays $3.50 an hour more and is directly on a bus route, he says. Without a car, he says, he has the choice between “wasting money on an Uber or a 40-minute bus ride home” from Downtown Hartford.
As the youngest child and only son, he says, “I probably got loved a little too much. My mom wanted a boy.”