Like thousands of others, Yesenia Velez will graduate from high school in a few weeks and start working on her college degree in the fall. However, that’s where Yesenia’s similarity to most high school students ends. At 16, after getting pregnant, she dropped out of Salem High School. She lost that pregnancy to a miscarriage, but didn’t return to school for the next two years. Returning to high school at 19 didn’t seem realistic until she received a call from a friend telling her about a new high school for students struggling to make their way in the traditional public school system. Today she has two children, 2-year-old Eliahnie, and 1-year-old Eddie, and is about to get her diploma. “I’m doing this for me,” Yesenia says, “but I’m also doing this for them. I want to be a good role model.”
The Salem Community Charter School, just finishing its second year in existence, offers a unique educational program designed for students like Yesenia. Traditional public schools can offer support for students who face one or two challenges, such as a learning disability or poverty. However, SCCS students average eight different risk factors, including homelessness, extreme poverty, mental health issues, drug addiction, unstable family relationships, or pregnancy. “It’s heartbreaking to see what these students face each and every day, but it’s inspiring at the same time,” says SCCS principal Jessica Yurwitz. “At SCCS we help our students get the support they need in the classroom and in their lives outside of school. We give them a chance to succeed. And they do succeed!”
Yesenia agrees, “They understand how hard it is to be in school when you have kids. They’ve helped me find the help I need, even baby clothes.” At 19, graduation from high school seemed impossible, but now at 21 she’s about to get her degree (after getting top marks on her MCAS) and is confident that she will go on to get a college degree and become a pediatric nurse.