20 Grads: Charting Her Own Path

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.

Eighteen-year-old Keiry Gutierrez’s story stands out among our 20 grads stories. Her story is sure to inspire others about the power of perseverance, determination, and how a great education can change the course of one’s life.

For Keiry, Path Academy was truly the life-changing opportunity to develop the English skills she needed to pursue her dreams of being the first person in her family to go to college.

This fall, she will be attending Quinebaug Valley Community College for two years as an English major, and then hopes to transfer to a university in New York City to major in Criminal Justice and go on to become a detective.

Keiry is no stranger to life’s hardships. She was raised in San Miguel, El Salvador, two and a half hours south of the Capitol, San Salvador. At the age of eleven, most of her family members moved to the US and she had to live on her own, find a way to stay in school, and feed herself. Before that, she was raised by her grandparents – she didn’t know her biological parents until she was 12 years old. While in El Salvador, she persevered – she managed to stay in school even though she had to walk an hour there and back every day for nine years.

When she came to the US at 15, she arrived to Long Island, New York, where she lived with her uncle and grandmother. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Willimantic with her mother and uncles. She said that her transition to another country and culture was very difficult. She was put in a school where teachers didn’t provide her with the tools that she needed to be successful, and that she wasn’t learning English at the rate that she needed to succeed in school.

She also had a hard time dealing with the weather in the Northeast, as winters can be harsh compared to the weather in El Salvador.

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After moving to Willimantic, she started at Windham High School, where she didn’t’ feel empowered to do the work. She only had classes in Spanish, though she desperately wanted to learn English. At Windham High School, she felt alone with no one to talk and without a support system. Little by little, people started to engage her, but only in Spanish.

Then she began her education at a charter school --Path Academy – which changed everything for her. However difficult life was for the non-English speaking immigrant, things seemed to start to level out once she enrolled there. She came to the school with nine credits, and needed 25 to graduate. She thought that it would be impossible but once she got help from her teachers, she began to learn English and flourished in her subject matters. Today, Keiry is a graduating senior ready to take on the world and fulfill her dreams.

Like most young people, Keiry has a great deal of interests and likes. Her favorite food is a typical Salvadoran dish called Pupusas – stuffed tortillas with cheese, pork, and/or beans. Her favorite pupusas are called revueltas, a combination of all three ingredients.

However young she may be, Keiry has had to grow up rather quickly to sustain herself and to graduate on time. In order to make it on time she has had to study late, often going to bed at 3 AM and babysitting at 6 AM before school.

Her favorite teacher is Mr. Simonich, her English teacher. She said that he helped her learn English and would help her digest anything that she didn’t understand. He would often stay after school to help her with her English assignments as well. To date, her English is continually improving and she has received a certificate from Path recognizing the strides that she’s made in the language.

Keiry also loves to write, as her newfound favorite subject is English. She wrote a four-page long horror story complete with her own anime illustrations. And because of her life’s struggles, she would like to work with young people who have trouble at home with their parents, or who are on drugs, to help guide them.

Thanks to unbelievably hard work and support of the educators at Path Academy, Keiry changed her life, and wants to motivate others to do the same.

Jose is the Connecticut Advocacy Manager with the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

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20 Grads: Charting Her Own Path
20 Grads: Charting Her Own Path
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