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Student, teacher conquer high school together

By KBell
May 21, 2012 at 12:21 a.m.
Updated May 22, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.

Josh Luna is on track to graduate despite growing up in a single-parent family with an unstable home environment. Josh faced pressure from  drugs and gangs, but rejected all negatives in his life to face a future that includes attending college in August.

None of this was in the plans - the red robe, the tasseled hat, college applications.

All of his life, Josh Luna assumed he'd follow the same path he saw those around him following. Drop out of school. Get a GED certificate. Survive.

"I came from not the best neighborhood, and I grew up in not the best conditions, but I overcame those struggles to get to where I'm at now," Josh said.

On June 2, Josh will graduate Victoria East High School as one of the first five students to come out of the Victoria school district's Advancement Via Individual Determination program.

AVID targets middle-of-the-pack students - those who may have an equal chance at turning toward success or failure - and challenges them to graduate high school and attend college. Students stick with their same AVID teacher and remain with what almost all of them call their AVID family throughout school.

Together, they learn study techniques, practice public speaking, take college field trips, foster team building and encourage one another to make it through each day, each year.

Josh met his AVID teacher, Nicole Leonard, in what they call his eighth-and-a-half grade year. After years of moving around town and watching his single mother struggle to support their family, Josh hadn't made the grades to become a freshman, but he wasn't quite a middle schooler. He said he hated school at that point and resented those who had "the good life," with a place to do homework, breakfast in the morning, both parents at home, and a sense of security.

"I was ready to give up. I was tired of struggling and just not passing anything," Josh said. "But then I just found help."

Josh and Leonard worked to pass his eighth-grade tests, while still taking high school credits. The next year, the school district rolled out its AVID program, and Leonard vowed to see Josh to graduation.

"(Some students) don't see the potential that they have," Leonard said. Josh "knew a lot more than he realized. At that point in time, it was my job to help him realize that."

Josh didn't come to that individual determination immediately. Over the years, he'd fallen into the proverbial wrong crowd. After seeing his friends hurt or jailed or on their way to either option, Josh said he told them he didn't want to be a part of it any longer.

"I saw what they were doing. I didn't like it," he said. "It wasn't fun anymore."

It wasn't until last year, when a group of kids jumped him on his way home from school, that he really found his determination. That's when he began honing in on that potential Leonard had seen in him all along.

With lots of late-evening tutoring with Leonard, Josh skipped straight from sophomore to senior standing. And this year, he found out he'd have enough credits to graduate with his class.

Without much time to let that surprise sink in, Josh was already enrolling in classes at Victoria College.

He'll head there in the fall for two more years of education before going to a higher institution to become a physical therapist.

Besides his mother's resilience, Josh gives Leonard a lot of the credit for his achievements thus far. He said she heard his cries.

Leonard said she looks at him as a man now - one who's discovered and capitalized on the confidence she always saw. And she's downright excited for him.

"In a way, when you're a youth, you're not the author of your story," she said. "Then when you become an adult, this is yours. You write what you want. You go where you want to go as far as your goals in life ... It's exciting that from this point on, he can start over."



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