Story #9

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Jeniffer M. – From the South Bronx to South Africa: the visit of a lifetime that almost didn’t happen

Jill Chaifetz Transfer School

How does someone go from skipping school for two months straight without anyone noticing to a personal meeting with Nelson Mandela?  Read on.

Jeniffer grew up in the South Bronx from the age of four and was raised by her single mother.  She is a 2009 graduate of the Jill Chaifetz Transfer School, a BronxWorks-sponsored public school designed for students aged 17 to 21 who have fallen behind academically.  Her remarkable story is below, as told to a group of BronxWorks friends at a recent gathering.

My name is Jeniffer M.  I am 21 years old and I have called the Bronx home since I emigrated to this country in 1995 with my mother.

When I did some research about youth in the Bronx, I came upon a statistic that claims that one-third of Bronx kids do not make it out of high school.  Many of these kids drop out as early as 8th grade.  I want to tell you my story and how I overcame becoming a part of that one-third.

There are a lot of labels and stereotypes that come with my neighborhood.  For me, being from the South Bronx meant that I had very little to aspire to.  I believed that being a teen mom, a high school dropout, or a criminal were the only things I would ever be.  In 2005, I entered high school and all these beliefs were confirmed.

Teen pregnancy consumed my school.  Every morning I had to take off my shoes, belts, and empty out my pockets to pass through the metal detectors, so because of that I felt like a criminal.  I had just barely made it to my junior year when I decided that I was done – ready to drop out.

So each day, I would kiss my mom goodbye, walk to the roof of my building, and wait for her to leave for work.  Somehow staying home all day doing nothing seemed more meaningful than going to school.

Two months!  Two months it took the school to realize I was not attending.  Two months it took them to contact my mother and let her know.  Two months.

My mother, always my supporter and motivator, refused to give up on me.  Soon after she was contacted, we made our way to the guidance counselor’s office.  “What are her options?” my mom asked.  Dropping out and getting a GED, she was told.

A college graduate with a degree in accounting, she wasn’t satisfied with that answer.  She decided that my best option was to transfer schools, and the search began.  We looked into numerous schools but none seemed to be any different than my current school.

Then one day we came upon the Jill Chaifetz Transfer School (JCTS).  We knew that this was the one.  The staff, the environment, the energy felt different; it reeked of positivity.  In 2008, I began a new stage in my life.  JCTS took me from being a 55 average student to being an honor roll student.

I was the success story that they presented to new students to motivate them.  My whole outlook on education and my abilities changed.  My outlook changed so much that I independently entered a writing contest sponsored by the NYC Department of Education.

Out of over 1,000 entries, I was one 12 NYC students that won and would be going to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela.  On June 2, 2009, I did just that.  I sat next to Nelson Mandela, shook his hand, and watched my name, Jeniffer, leave his lips.

I was never the same after that.  My aspirations, dreams, and goals for the future have drastically changed.  I believe in myself, and I now know that I can and will be great and I can excel beyond the expectations of my circumstances.

I have to thank organizations like BronxWorks that establish schools like JCTS to give students like me who are ready to give up a second chance.

My journey has been a long and rough one, but thankfully I have been able to overcome the turmoil.  I recently got my associates degree.  I have decided to pursue a teaching degree and if all goes as planned, I will be going back to school this spring to do just that.

One-third of kids that come from where I come from will never believe in themselves enough to truly grasp the idea that they can make it past their circumstances.  One-third of Bronx kids do not make it past high school. One-third. This is why it is important to keep organizations like BronxWorks alive. To continue to create more success stories like me.

The Jill Chaifetz Transfer School was founded through a partnership with BronxWorks, the NYC Department of Education, and New Visions for Public Schools.  BronxWorks provides academic support and social services to ensure that students succeed in school and are prepared for life after graduation. Questions or comments?  Send them to info@bronxworks.org.

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