When Jessup came to the Gateway to College program at Spokane Falls Community College in the fall of 2014, he had already been asked to leave high school and a Running Start program. He was estranged from his parents, and he was filled with anger. Early in his time with Gateway to College, a college-based high school reengagement program for off track and out of school students that uses dual enrollment and significant holistic student supports to help students complete high school ready for postsecondary success, Jessup was battling substance abuse and issues with controlling his anger. Similar to the patterns in his earlier educational experiences, he left the Gateway to College program in May 2015. During his eight months away from the Gateway program, however, Jessup identified in his peers and in himself a lack of seriousness and direction. He became determined that he would succeed and, unlike past programs, Gateway to College gave him another chance.
Once the importance of school clicked for Jessup, he didn’t waste time. He was fully focused on his success in the classroom, and he was aware of the changes he needed to make in order to succeed. Some of his frustration with peers initially carried over to his relationship with some fellow students whom he felt were unprepared to be in school. A conversation with the Spokane Gateway Director, Leslie Lloyd, however, helped him focus on his own success. Jessup still held a deep distrust of authority figures, and one of the biggest issues that impeded his past success was the lack of a feeling of belonging and acceptance. In ATD’s Gateway to College program, however, Jessup was surrounded by people who saw something special in him and believed in him. In her early conversations with him, Resource Specialist Stormy Kurtz recalls Jessup sharing that because he bounced around often, people simply didn’t want to deal with him. “The biggest thing for me was to give unconditional love, and to show that I cared about him no matter what he did. My coaching and advice was consistent. I would let him unload, and then we could discuss his options,” she recalled.
Jessup still liked to challenge his instructors, and sometimes the challenges had the effect of pushing them away. Mathematics was his most difficult subject, and Jessup failed the class in his first attempt. When his instructor welcomed him back and appeared pleased to have him in his class, Jessup became coachable and teachable, and he looked forward to doing the work. His instructor would not let Jessup push him away, and he proved to Jessup time and again that he believed in him. “He genuinely loved doing his job, and I went to him every time when I had questions,” Jessup shared of his instructor.
In June, the Gateway to College staff proudly cheered Jessup as he walked across the commencement stage, finally earning his high school diploma. He graduated high school with only 30 credits remaining for his associate’s degree, which he plans to earn by next spring. Jessup works for small businesses as an arborist and laying concrete, and those experiences have convinced him that he wants to use his education and experience to start his own small business.
As he recalls his time in the Gateway to College program, Jessup shares that all of the staff in the program were mentors in one way or another. “It’s important to have solid pillars in your life to achieve all that you want.” Leslie and Stormy, in particular, left an impact because they never turned their backs on him. “They reminded me that they were always there for me when I wanted to give up. They were always an open ear, and helpful with the resources they provided,” he said.
Jessup’s story is one of many stories of young people overcoming challenges with the proper supports. For Leslie Lloyd, it’s important to show students that you believe in them and to connect academic and non-academic supports. “The key component for all of our students is to find someone who believes in the young people. This can be difficult to quantify, but it’s the holistic supports that help students overcome out of class challenges and succeed.”