Iris Guizar's troubles with school started simply enough.
She was in seventh grade at Highlands Middle School in Kennewick when she and a friend began talking all through class, not getting their work done.
A few of Iris' cousins also attended her school and she began skipping classes with them.
"I remember being told I missed two months of school," the 18-year-old Kamiakin High School senior said of middle school.
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Despite years of terrible grades and missing two or three days of school a week, Iris is going to graduate after blazing through make-up courses and buckling down. She plans to attend Columbia Basin College with the goal of becoming a nurse.
Educators at Kamiakin High said they've never seen a student recover as strongly as Iris. However, there are many students like her who are capable of doing well in school but only need to know how important it is to work hard and earn good grades, said English teacher Lucy Razor.
"It's her," Razor said of Iris. "It's her choosing to take advantage of her education."
Iris was born in Fresno, Calif., but moved to the Mid-Columbia, where her father's family lives, when she was in elementary school. She has an older brother and two younger sisters.
Iris said she did pretty well in elementary school, getting her homework done, paying attention in class and earning good grades. But in middle school, she opted instead to get a soda at the corner convenience store with her class-skipping friends, or to hang out at home watching TV.
Besides peer pressure, Iris said, a variety of factors contributed to her truancy and sliding grades. Her immigrant parents said education was important and that she needed to do well in school. However, they hadn't advanced beyond the eighth grade.
"I thought it was a waste of time," she said, explaining how she felt about middle school.
Her parents also worked long hours, from 5 a.m. until 4 p.m., as agricultural workers, making it easier for her to stay home without their knowing. Their lack of English skills made them unable to help her with schoolwork and communicate well with Iris' teachers and other school officials, she said.
"It's not that they didn't care, it's that they didn't know," Iris said.
The situation worsened each year in middle school. Iris failed three courses as an eighth-grader, yet continued on into high school, where she continued to skip class and not turn in homework. Razor said Iris was in her freshman English class, and it was a regular occurrence to have her walk in late or not at all. Still, Razor said she saw potential in her.
"One of the things I always recognized with Iris was that she was always honest," Razor said. "Even if I didn't like the answer, she was always honest with me."
Maria Buxbaum, Kamiakin High's migrant and bilingual student counselor, became aware of Iris' laissez-faire approach to school not long after she arrived as a freshman. The problem was motivating her.
"I never thought she'd get it," she said.
Buxbaum increasingly sought Iris out to talk to her about how she was doing in school. When the message didn't seem to get through, she contacted her parents, shattering the years worth of excuses and misinformation Iris had given them.
"Oh yeah, (Iris) didn't like me," Buxbaum said, laughing.
Iris said she did become upset at Buxbaum, but acknowledged it was childish to be. As she approached her junior year, she began to consider her options and decided she needed to finish high school.
She broke off friendships with people she skipped school with. She confessed to her parents and went to truancy court, where she was given a warning. Then she began working to make up for lost time, though even Buxbaum had her doubts.
"She would have been at least a year and a half or two years behind," she said.
Iris blazed through make-up coursework, helping her get credit for courses she'd failed. She then went to summer school to get closer to meeting graduation requirements. Her cumulative grade-point average still is below a B-average, but her senior year GPA is 3.7. She spent her lunch hour working with teachers and often stayed after school as well.
She also began to get active outside of class. In addition to holding a part-time job for a fast food restaurant, she volunteers to help Buxbaum and in Achieving Leadership Among Students, a program serving the students of migrant families and helping them learn about going to college.
Iris' hard work has paid off, as she's received $3,250 from four college scholarships and is waiting to hear about others, but she said one of the biggest things she's learned is perspective. She's serving as a role model for her younger sisters about the importance of school and she knows that, while her parents were disappointed when they learned of her truancy, they are proud of how far she's come.
"I can tell they're proud of me because they talk to other family members and brag about me," Iris said, working to hold back tears.
Razor and Buxbaum said Iris' story is a remarkable testament to her spirit. However, about one out of four high school students is like her and, and while Iris will walk across the stage today to receive a diploma, the battle continues to help other students do the same.
"There are always kids like her and how do you get through to them?" Razor asked. "It has to become a priority for the student."