20 Grads: A Starter On and Off the Field

20 Grads in 20 Days: June marks a huge anniversary in Connecticut. Twenty years ago this month, Governor John Rowland signed the law allowing public charter schools to exist in the state of Connecticut! To celebrate, we’re profiling 20 public charter school graduates every day for the first 20 days of June. Enjoy reading about our charter schools and the stellar kids they're educating.

As he graduates from Achievement First Hartford High School, Jahkai has a lot to be proud of.

He’s heading to the University of Tennessee Martin on a football scholarship, has excelled in class, including in AP courses, and he’s been a leader at home, especially for his younger sister.

For Jakhai, a lot of that success is thanks to his time at Achievement First – he knows things could’ve been different.

Jakhai’s parents both went to Hartford High School, and he has seen the stark differences between AF Hartford and the education offered at Hartford and Weaver, the two biggest district high schools. “Seeing the way my neighborhood friends have grown in high school, I wouldn’t have wanted to be there – I wouldn’t have learned anything,” said Jakhai. “They don’t have teachers than can push them and make them focus more on their schoolwork, so they start to not care. It hurts to see my peers go off on that path.”

Before joining AF Hartford in 6th grade, Jakhai was on that path. “It was difficult for me to make the change to AF coming from a regular public school where there was no structure,” said Jakhai. “I wasn’t as good of a student or as well behaved – I was always the class clown.”

“Coming into AF, I was reading below grade level; they helped me get to where I needed to be,” recalled Jakahi. “It helped a lot for them to pay attention to students the way they do and care for students the way they do. I’m glad I stuck with it, because it helped me grow into a mature young man, helped build my character, and helped me become more responsible.”

One constant support for Jakhai was math class. Even before AF, he got achievement awards for being a ‘math genius’ in elementary school. Even as math got harder in high school, Jakhai prefers it as his favorite subject.

He especially appreciates the support of his AP Calculus teacher, Ms. Giovacchini. “She’s enthusiastic throughout the day, always has a smile on her face, and helps students no matter what – It’s easy to learn in her class,” said Jakhai. “When I needed help, she’d stay after school or help me during lunch or study hall.”

Jakhai hopes he’ll have the same support next year at the University of Tennessee Martin. Thanks to his football scholarship, he’s leaving for fall camp three weeks before school starts. “I’m nervous but excited because I know I’ll be able to connect with my football teammates,” said Jakhai.

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Being a student athlete is important to Jakhai – his favorite high school project was a research paper on student athletes and how their grade point average affected their ability to get into college. “The majority of student athletes that go to college, they read below college level,” said Jakhai. “I wanted to find ways to increase the rigor of GPAs and coursework.”

Jakhai takes that to heart and is prepared to balance sports with his classes next year. Accomplishing his dream, to become a sports agent, means following through on that goal. He’s planning on majoring in sports management and administration and general business, and looks forward to the day when he has a good job and can provide for his mother and family.

He also takes time out of his week to teach his values to kids in his community. “I help younger athletes work out and do their homework, and make sure they’re on the right path both athletically and educationally,” said Jakhai. “Growing up I didn’t have that, so the fact that there’s something like that now for kids means a lot to me because I want to see kids in the community grow up to succeed.”

As Jakhai reflects on his time at AF, he recognizes that his biggest challenge was heading to high school without his father, who was incarcerated when he was in middle school. “He was my best friend, so losing him made me mature faster and step up to the plate to help my mom and my sister,” said Jakhai. “I focused on what I needed to focus on, as far as football, education, and family, so I was working harder than other people my age.”

Being the man of the house motivates Jakhai – college is more than just an education for him. “It’s hard for my sister, who is still young and she doesn’t have my dad to look up to,” said Jakhai. “Knowing I have to be there for her pushes me harder to stay on the right path.”

He thanks both of his parents for their support as he was growing up: “They never gave up on me or said no to what I wanted to do. They’ve been in my corner no matter what it was.”

As Jakhai graduates and heads down south to Tennessee, he’ll be far from home, but prepared to succeed. The discipline he learned at Achievement First is a part of his lifestyle, and his family and friends are there to support him as he wins on the field and in the classroom.

Mike is the former Deputy Communications Director for Connecticut for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
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20 Grads: A Starter On and Off the Field
20 Grads: A Starter On and Off the Field
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