Although they have different backgrounds, for students like Francely Altanirano Salinos, 18, and Casey Morgan, 19, the pressures of being the first in their family to graduate high school can be daunting.
Both nearly dropped out. And at one time in their lives, both wondered why they should continue high school.
Francely, a Raleigh native, has served as the English translator for her parents at parent-teacher conferences and at work most of her life because they don’t speak much English. She helps her 6- and 13-year-old brothers with their homework.
“I have to take care of them before I can take care of my responsibilities, like my homework,” Francely said. “It’s very difficult having that stress. It’s a lot of pressure because you have to make sure you’re saying everything right, and make sure they are understanding what someone is trying to tell them.
“I felt like I wasn’t going to make it.”
Casey, on the other hand, moved to North Carolina from Georgia in 2004. He has two half siblings and a brother. Neither one of his parents graduated high school. His dad dropped out of school to pursue a career in drag racing. He needed to make money for his family.
“Two years ago, I failed a grade, and then I was like ‘What’s the point? I could be making money helping my parents,’” he said.
But both students had teachers, counselors and their families to encourage them to stay in school. And in three months they’ll be walking across the stage.
Garner Magnet High School has seen a 75 percent decrease in its dropout rate since 2011, according to statistics released by the Department of Public Instruction. It is the highest decrease among high schools in Wake County. Districtwide, the rate has gone down by one-third in the same time frame.
In 2011, 136 students dropped out from Garner Magnet High. In 2015, 38 dropped out.
“I’m never going to take credit for the work that this school does,” Garner principal Carter Hillman said. “Because where the rubber meets the road is the teachers. And the job well-done is what they are doing and investing in their lives. My job is to drive the ship. Their job is to be in the back corners asking ‘Do you need any help here? What’s going on?’ They are doing the work that needs to be done.”
He said he’s proud to be a part of that, and he knows the work is not done.
Francely credits her student counselor, Katie Jordan, and her AP Spanish teacher, William Crain, from preventing her from becoming a statistic.
“They just make it seem like you matter,” she said. “They get very personal with you. And they just make sure they understand what you need. There are plenty of teachers that do that at Garner, but every student has their group of teachers that help them through.”
Casey, a self-taught musician, credits music and his teacher Elita Hoover.
“She helped me get back on track, and now she’s super excited that I’m going to graduate,” he said. “She reminds me what my grades are everyday, what I’m missing and what I can complete.”
Casey said music calms him down when he’s feeling pressure. He plays guitar.
In three months, the two and hundreds of other students will graduate from Garner Magnet High School.
Casey will have family coming from Georgia to see him graduate, including his aunt, who played a big role in his upbringing.
“I’m going to be super excited,” he said.
Francely said she often thinks about what it will be like to see her parents in the audience as she walks across the stage. She said she’ll probably cry.
“Seeing myself, I did it. I finally did it,” she said, with a huge smile on her face. “And showing my parents that I did it, it’s just really exciting. I’m just ready to get there.”