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No Easy Road, Part 3

From start to finish

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Ninth grade didn’t finish the way Corey White had hoped.

The high-achieving teen’s final grades at Academy at Palumbo High School included Cs in English and biology.

Concerned, Corey’s mother and great-grandparents moved him out of their Southwest Philadelphia home and in with his grandparents.

It’s the reverse of the move that White’s mother, now 28, made at his age.

“I had Corey when I was 13,” says Robin White, who dropped out of Thomas Middle School in 8th grade.

When Corey was just a toddler, she moved in with Corey’s great-grandparents.

Rebecca White, now 70, was well positioned to provide support. She had studied elementary education at Bowie State University and later worked at child care centers, preschools, and the ELECT Program for teen moms.

She also taught at the Evelyn Graves Christian Daycare Academy when Corey started there as a three-year-old. The following year, she and Corey moved on together to preschool at St. Charles Borremeo.

As a result, Corey’s early schooling reinforced his education at home.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear was Corey’s favorite book,” Robin White recalls. “I had to take it out of the library for him. He knew it without even having to read it.”

“[In preschool], we did a whole play out of Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” laughs Rebecca White. “Our hearts were open to helping him learn, so he was ready for kindergarten.”

Now, Corey is focused on 10th grade. Despite lackluster English and science grades last year, he excelled in algebra, making him confident about the new year.

“Chemistry is going to be an A subject,” he predicts. “It’s more math-based than biology.”

•••

Dominique Holloman somehow accumulated enough credits to make it to 10th grade.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t shown up to school yet this year.

Last spring, Dominique was facing months of missed schoolwork following the birth of her daughter, Destiny.

After staying home for the entire 2007-08 school year, Dominique’s freshman year at Audenried High School was supposed to be a new beginning.

But Dominique missed over two months of school while pregnant, and she didn’t return after Destiny’s birth on May 1.

She was slotted for summer school, but records show she attended for only three days.

Now, it looks like the promising teen might drop out permanently.

Dominique and her mother, who dropped out in the 11th grade, declined to be interviewed for this article. Others aren’t sure what she wants.

For months, Dominique, Destiny, and Destiny’s father have been living with Samantha Adams, Destiny’s paternal grandmother.

Adams, 39, says she talks to them constantly about parenting skills and making good choices.

“My plan is to help them become productive parents on their own,” she explains.

Through her work to help troubled families prevent their children from being placed with the Department of Human Services, Adams knows how dramatically her granddaughter’s future will be affected by Dominique’s decisions.

Daughters of women who graduate from high school are one-third less likely to drop out than daughters of women who dropped out, according to a recent study.

Adams holds out hope that Dominique will return to Audenried. While that looks unlikely, the school says its doors are open.

“She’s still enrolled,” says roster chair Victoria Monacelli. “She could come tomorrow if she wants.”

•••

Will Green spent much of his summer on the phone, talking to girls.

“I haven’t been doing anything to get ready for 10th grade,” he said in late August, surprised at the thought.

Will’s mother is concerned.

“I’m worried about him falling into the life that I was in,” Freena Green says quietly.

Before Will was born, his mother served a 90-day sentence at Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility on drug charges.

Will’s father, William Rodriguez, is currently incarcerated, also on drug charges.

During Will’s early years, his mother struggled to turn her life around.

When Will was about four, she got a cleaning job at the Spectrum. Later, she worked as a receptionist, then at a child care center.

“I was so happy taking care of the kids, working my job, and coming home. But I was going through a lot,” she recalls.

Perhaps as a result, she got a late start enrolling Will in preschool. Will eventually attended Head Start at the Houston Center and then kindergarten at Abigail Vare Elementary.

His mother, meanwhile, continued to struggle.

“I was calling out to the Lord, but I was not able to give up that way of life. And I ended up having a breakdown,” she says.

Will remembers crying on his first day of kindergarten – after school, because he worried that no one was going to meet him. Otherwise, he says he doesn’t recall much about his mom’s struggles.

Freena Green says she was saved six years ago. Ever since, the Whole Truth Church of Deliverance in South Philadelphia has been her life.

“God has delivered me from a generational curse,” she says gratefully.

As for Will, she can only pray that he too escapes the cycles that threaten to ensnare him.

But with summer winding down, the beginning of 10th grade was barely on Will’s mind.

“I don’t know when the first day of school is,” he said with a shrug. “But I’m sure someone will tell me.”

No Easy Road

In the third installment of the Notebook series about what keeps students connected to high school, we check in with three South Philly teens at the beginning of 10th grade – and look back at their early years.

To read the previous installments, click here for part one and part two.

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