During COVID, I worked construction during the day and did my schoolwork online in the nights.
When it was time to go back to regular [in-person] school, I didn’t want to go back. I was a senior, but I didn’t have enough credits to graduate on time. I wanted to drop out. But my guidance counselor, Mr. Baglio, told me, hey, would you like to join this program that helps you get your credits? He explained to me about Flushing YABC [Young Adult Borough Center at Flushing High School], which is a school for students like me.
At first, I didn’t want to hear anything about it. I was already working and didn’t want to do school anymore. But Mr. Baglio convinced me. He said they [the YABC staff] would support me and work with my schedule. I took the offer and went to YABC.
I’d get up at 5 a.m., go to my construction job, and then go to YABC right after at 3 p.m. It was killing me because I also had a night shift job. Eventually I got a job at a bagel shop—went in to work at 5 [a.m.], out by 2 [p.m.], went to school from 3-8:30. But I was struggling to pay my bills. I had a lot of difficulty around that time. I got kicked out of my house. In my culture, parents are often quick to judge and not really listen. I was going to give up on school. I was done.
The only thing that stopped me was Ms. Peña. Ms. Peña was my primary contact at YABC. Every single time I thought about dropping out, she’d remind me I was almost done. She’d say, Chris, you got this, don’t give up; you are going to finish high school. She was always there to listen and help me with solutions. When I told her about my job situation, she helped me find a job at FHS [Flushing High School] that fit into my schedule. It was a paid internship through the Learning to Work program. I worked with Mr. Max in the IT department of FHS doing inventory. He helped me develop business wise. I didn’t know how to communicate, how to speak to someone in an office. Now I’ve worked with a lot of staff at FHS. Teachers know me very well. I got a lot of respect from them, and they told me that they would help me with getting a job if I ever needed it.
Ms. Peña also helped me figure out what I wanted to do after high school. She had people come in to talk to us about different jobs, what they do day to day. There were people who had jobs in business, real estate … and a police officer. Becoming a police officer kind of hit me as something I want to do. He said that it’s always good just to help the community. A lot of Hispanic people don’t understand English very well, they need help sometimes, and it’s good to help the community. That’s something that interested me. He gave me ideas to organize myself a little better, talked about college. I took his advice. I decided to go to Queensborough Community College to study criminal justice. I’m starting my first semester now. I’m doing that!
I am where I am because of Ms. Peña. I cried to her when I graduated. I couldn’t believe I really did it!
I also want to thank Mr. Max. When I started in the technology room with Mr. Max, I was used to carpentry, not computers. I told him, I’m slow, you’re going to get frustrated with me. But he taught me everything. I took inventory on 500 computers! He taught me new things every day. It feels good to learn! I always thought, I’ll stick to construction, but you know what? It’s always good to learn.