At 20, Roxana Martinez will receive her high school diploma a little later than most people.
That’s partly because of some choices she made as a teenager — dropping out of high school, trouble with the law and becoming a stay-at-home mom of two.
“I just started hanging out with bad influences,” Martinez said. “I stopped caring.”
But for the past year she’s worked to finish high school at Pasco’s New Horizons High School. That would be hard enough for someone in Martinez’s position even without the lack of a support system outside of school.
This kid is very brave for her children and making the ultimate sacrifice to move into the mission.
Michelle Smith, New Horizons teacher
It was a task made even more daunting when Martinez and her young boys ended up in the women’s shelter of the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission after losing their housing.
“This kid is very brave for her children and making the ultimate sacrifice to move into the mission,” said one of her teachers, Michelle Smith.
Despite those hurdles, Martinez graduates June 10.
She’s also in a new apartment with her boys and started an agricultural job this week, a day after she completed all her classwork.
And while her life is still not stable, Martinez says receiving her diploma will be proof that perseverance can pay off.
Getting back on track
Martinez came to the United States from Mexico with her mother and baby brother when she was a toddler.
Her mother died not long after they arrived and she was largely raised by a stepfather.
She enjoyed school until she reached high school and then headed down a difficult path. Her first son, Damien, was born not long after she dropped out and he was followed shortly by Julian, now 18 months.
“I wouldn’t do anything but be at home and watch TV,” Martinez said.
It was an offer from a probation officer to set up an appointment with New Horizons Principal Seth Johnson that turned Martinez back toward her education. The school is geared toward helping students who’ve struggled in more traditional schools and may have dropped out.
She has a quiet fierceness to her.
Michelle Smith, New Horizons teacher
Johnson said he sits through numerous meetings with potential students before each school year starts. The meeting with Martinez, though, was a memorable one.
“It was very clear to me that Roxana was going to be determined to get it done,” he said.
Martinez was surprised at how many credits she actually had earned before dropping out her junior year but she still had a little more than a year’s worth of classes to complete. She still needed credits in language arts, physical education, science and geometry.
She also was worried about leaving her boys in the school’s day care and how she would fit in at the school.
“I was really scared to come here because of what people would say about (going to an alternative school),” she said. “But everyone was so nice.”
Attending the school wasn’t just about helping Martinez academically, her teachers said, but also helping her overcome other obstacles.
Smith said the school’s approach is “trauma-informed”— being mindful of the struggles that have placed many New Horizons students in circumstances that jeopardize their education and success. Smith teaches a course aimed at helping students identify the barriers that have held them back and to get them addressed.
Last winter, after Martinez took Smith’s class, she confided to her teacher that she and her sons were about to end up on the street because they were losing the apartment she shared with a boyfriend.
Don’t give up. I know I almost did and if it wasn’t for (my teachers), I know I would have.
Roxana Martinez, New Horizons student
School staff rallied to help but Smith said they determined the best option was to place her in the shelter until they could find something more permanent.
Debbie Biaondolillo, a case manager at the women’s shelter, said Martinez’s continued commitment to school during that time was admirable.
School officials arranged to have a bus pick up the young mother and her sons early each school day “and she was always there,” said Jacqueline Brewster, another New Horizons teacher.
“She has a quiet fierceness to her,” Smith added.
A rough road ahead
Eventually, Martinez’s boyfriend found another apartment and they moved in several weeks ago. And even with her new job, Martinez is stressing about how they’ll afford the rent and other expenses.
But she’s trying to focus on her accomplishment this week and hopes others can take some inspiration from it and know there are people who can help you succeed.
“Don’t give up,” Martinez said. “I know I almost did and if it wasn’t for (my teachers), I know I would have.”