When Keybo Carrillo was asked by his eighth-grade teacher a decade ago in Pennsylvania whether he was smart or not, he had lost faith in the educational system. This was before he took a chance on Pathways to Graduation, a city program that prepares adults for the high school equivalency exam, known as the Test Assessing Secondary Completion or TASCTM. Last week, Carrillo and 2,000 other students from the five boroughs graduated from the program at United Palace in Washington Heights.
After getting into trouble, trying out alternative schools, and writing off the academic institution of school altogether, Carrillo moved back to his home city of New York only to realize that he couldn’t compete for any of the jobs he wanted without a high school diploma. He had almost given up on ever getting a degree until his friend suggested that he give school one more chance through Pathways, according to an article from Chalkbeat.
“I said, you know what? I have to make a change,” said Carrillo, who had previously attended a program for students who were involved with the court system in the past.
Pathways to Graduation is open and free to students ages 18-21 who would like to take the TASCTM (formerly known as the GED).
According to Tim Lisante, executive superintendent for District 79, which oversees programs for older students who have faced interrupted schooling, Pathways has flourished over the past couple of years, evolving its past test prep and providing its students with networking connections to college and career opportunities such as internships or professional training.
Brian Morris, one of the teachers for Pathways, claimed that Carrillo seemed hesitant at first to believing in his academic potential. This is the case for many of his students, Morris said, as they are usually dealing with issues that serve as obstacles in their educational journey, such as homelessness, domestic difficulties, recovering from substance abuse, or readjusting to life after prison. Morris said that one of the biggest struggles as a teacher at Pathways is convincing his students that they can triumph in spite of their obstacles to earn that high school degree.
“They go through a lot of things, so when they finally get to this point, it’s so incredible, ” said Morris, who watched Carrillo along with his fellow Pathways students from the five boroughs receive their diplomas last week.
The crowed erupted in applause as one woman walked across the stage while holding a young child on her hip. Another student, 21-year-old Angela Rapp, needed the program in order to conclude her years of homeschooling and received an academic award in doing so. Rapp said she took advantage of Pathways’ internship opportunities after passing her exam a month after her enrollment in the program. She is set to study sociology at Brooklyn College this fall.
Lisante plans to broaden the program in time for this September by incorporating more nighttime options for students who enroll in Pathways, as well as offering the program to students up to the age of 24.
Pathways has been steadily growing throughout the years, according to Lisante. He recalled how usually an auditorium at Hunter College would serve as big enough for the graduation ceremony to be held in past years, but because of the growing amount of graduates, a location change was needed.
“Now it looks like we’re outgrowing this,” Lisante said as the graduates crossed the stage.
As for the student who had once deemed the institution of education as a total lost cause for him, Carrillo earned himself a special award for his progress through the program and is now at LaGuardia Community College studying audio engineering. He says he owes much of his success to his teachers at Pathways who “embraced” the person he was — something he had not previously experienced.