Sunday, May 31, 2009
COMMERCE CITY — Susana “Vivi” Briones was on the road to trouble during her days at Adams City High School. She hung out with the rough crowd, smoked pot, and ditched class.
Arguments and fights were common for this tough girl in training, who smoked her first joint at 14 and seemed destined to become a high school dropout just like every other member of her family.
“I thought why should I go to school? No one in my family graduated,” Briones said. “Why should I care?”
Fate, family and faith changed everything for Briones, who became Hope Online Learning Academy Co-Op’s first ever prom queen last month – a distinction earned through academic achievement not popularity.
The change, fostered by her mother’s love and the support of teachers and mentors at Hope Online’s New Heights Academy learning center in Commerce City, mellowed Briones’s rough ways and taught her the importance of academic success.
The big shift occurred during Briones’s sophomore year. That’s when her mother took her out of Adams City High School and placed her into a Hope Online learning center in Commerce City. Briones, in typical teen-aged fashion, rebelled.
“I did not want to go there,” Briones said of the school that specializes in on-line education and letting students learn at their own pace. “I thought it was a school for dumb kids. I did not think it was a real school. This is just a roomful of kids on computers, what will they learn?”
As it turned out, Briones learned a great deal.
Briones’s final transformation occurred after her older brother dropped out of high school just one month away from graduation. Suddenly, Briones realized that she could become the first in her extended family of 40 to earn a high school diploma.
“My mother wanted to see a diploma in my brother’s hands. When that did not happen, I saw how disappointed she was,” Briones said. “I did not want her to go through that again. … My mother gives me so much. I realized that I needed to give back and start all over.”
Like a modern-day version of “My Fair Lady,” Briones changed from a troubled teen into a top student.
“Had I not moved to Hope Online, I would have been a typical dropout who gets pregnant at 18,” she said.
Now, Briones has a bright future. She will attend the Community College of Denver in the fall and work to become a teacher or counselor.
Briones is proof that the hands-on approach followed at Hope Online works for thousands of students who need more than what is provided at standard brick and mortar schools.
“I started getting excited about graduation during my junior year,” Briones said. “I saw that I could be the first in my family to graduate. My entire attitude changed thanks to my teachers and mentors who never gave up on me and told me that I could do it.”
Briones will be among 130 fellow Hope Online graduates during the school’s graduation ceremony on June 11.
PS…Prom Queen here, unlike the popularity contest at other schools, is decided purely on academic merit. Yay!