Homeless Teen Graduates High School
Nora Perez wants to become an FBI agent—up until about a year ago, this seemed like an impossibility given the fact that the teenager lives in her parked car. Last week, however Ms. Perez was able to take a staggering step into the possibility of her desired future: she was able to graduate from high school. Nora Perez and thousands of homeless LA teenagers like herself have benefitted from the Los Angeles County Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Homeless Education Program. The program doesn’t just make sure that homeless teens have access to the state’s free education—they make sure that they have the means to be able to attain it. They help homeless teens out by giving them the day-to-day resources that they need to be able to go to school and study well. These include backpacks, school supplies, portable hygiene kits and access to wellness centers which provide the homeless teenagers with showers, physical and mental health check-ups as well as consultations regarding their different career options. There are currently around 13,794 homeless teens covered by the LAUSD’s program.
Nora Perez, in particular, is a very persistent and ambitious young women who just so happens to go home to a parked car. In an interview with PBS, she says that she is dedicated to making her dreams come true. The teenager, who just recently received her high school diploma says that whenever she thinks of giving up, she thinks about other students like herself who have the odds stacked against them and how at this point, they just don’t have the option of giving up. Debra Duardo, the executive director of Student Health and Human Services Department at LAUSD says that it’s kids like Nora who inspire them to keep improving the program—she goes onto say that many of their students are going to college and getting scholarships for 4-year-courses, eventually allowing them to better their lives.
Ms. Perez says that the program was able to help her feel like it made a difference whether or not she succeeded and that having a support system like that really provided her with the motivation to go on. However, she does acknowledge that she has a long way to go before she reaches her dream of becoming an FBI agent—there’s the training program and having to attain her bachelor’s degree. Now that she’s equipped with a high school diploma, she’s looking for part-time jobs that can help her get into college and hopefully, will supplement a scholarship.
Nancy Gutierrez, the LAUSD Homeless Education Program coordinator says that Nora’s success can be attributed to two things: on one hand, the program’s support and on the other hand, Nora’s drive to succeed. She says that everything begins with giving the students and their success a sense of value: the first step toward improvement is letting them know that yes, it matters and yes, there are people to help you out. She says that the LAUSD’s program wants to empower homeless kids with the same opportunities that other students have. She also says that what they really want to do is to be able to interrupt the self-perpetuating chain of extreme poverty which they’re facing and which may lead them toward becoming demotivated and giving up on their schooling—which in turn, results in them sinking deeper below the poverty line. Ms. Gutierrez says that she wants more and more students to hear about the great things that Nora and those like her have achieved, despite the setbacks which they faced. She says that hopefully, in the coming five years there will be more than a hundred thousand students covered by the Homeless Education Program.