When Noe Castro was 14, his parents split up, and he was floundering at Burbank High School in San Antonio. His mother’s health was poor, so Noe worked at a gas station until 2 a. m. to help support his family. Then, his grandmother died, adding more stress. Noe rarely paid attention in class and was failing several courses. With help from Burbank faculty and the Diplomas Now team, however, he turned his performance around.
After an early-warning-indicator meeting revealed that Noe needed additional support, he was referred to Kim Morrison, the then-Communities In Schools site coordinator at Burbank. Kim began reaching out regularly to Noe to ask how he was doing and to make sure he got tutoring. “He needed a lot more one-on-one attention, and the City Year AmeriCorps members and I teamed up to work with him,” Kim recalls. Says Noe: “When I first met Kim during my freshman year, she introduced herself and told me she was working with students who wanted to survive high school and become college ready. She was a great role model and was really there when I needed her.”
He needed a lot more one-on-one attention, and the City Year corps members and I teamed up to work with him freshman and sophomore year,” Kim recalls.
Kim’s support extended beyond academics. Earlier this year, Noe and his mom had a fight so he stayed with his uncle who loaned Noe his car to get to and from school. But the car broke down two blocks from school. Kim coordinated with Burbank’s automotive teacher, Mr. Morales, whose class fixed the car. Kim also printed out driving directions for Noe since he couldn’t find his cell phone and asked him to let her know the moment he got to his uncle’s house. “This is what Diplomas Now is all about,” Kim said. “Everyone jumped in to help.”
A field trip to Phoenix Middle College in San Antonio during his sophomore year broadened Noe’s horizons to seriously consider college. Phoenix Middle College, a free district program located on a local college campus, allows high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit while working toward certification in careers such as welding, automotive technology, and computer security. With help from Kim and Burbank faculty, Noe was accepted to the program. “Excelling in the program made me realize that I was capable of doing well in school,” he said.
Like Noe, Burbank as a whole has seen gains. In 2014, Burbank performed with distinction in reading/English language arts, science and preparing students for post-secondary success, according to the Texas Education Agency’s rating system. In 2015, it met 26 out of 29 Texas state accountability indicators for academic performance, participation and graduation, and 93% of all currently enrolled seniors are on track to graduation.
Innovative Diplomas Now initiatives helped secure these gains, such as the XY Zone, a group for boys without strong male role models. The program began with 13 boys but has grown to 20 who meet regularly to discuss their lives and academic progress. The group also brings guest speakers and provides opportunities for students to bolster their leadership skills by sponsoring trips to a local ropes course. Noe joined as a freshman and soon became a leader, adeptly facilitating conversations between both the quiet and the outspoken boys.
The XY Zone also participates in the annual XY Zone Leadership Camp, a camping trip for Burbank boys as well as boys in XY Zone groups at other local high schools. They travel to a campsite in the hills where they sleep in cabins and enjoy activities such as hiking, jogging, and football. Noe has attended the camping trip three times. “It’s always a pretty good adventure,” he said. “The XY Zone Leadership Camp was the first time I experienced a place beyond San Antonio.”
Students benefit from Diplomas Now instruction after school, during lunch, and in the XY Zone. Diplomas Now brings a lot to the table, and this has helped the students get to where they are now,” said Principal Rodriguez.
Burbank Principal Maribel Rodriguez believes Diplomas Now has been instrumental in providing students the necessary support to excel in school. “Students benefit from Diplomas Now instruction after school, during lunch, and in the XY Zone. Diplomas Now brings a lot to the table, and this has helped students get to where they are now,” said Principal Rodriguez. “City Year and CIS have a rapport with the kids. They reach out to them and students feel like hey, they do really care about me.”
Today, Noe is a thriving senior and was even selected to speak at a news conference with the mayor outlining San Antonio’s action plan for the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to help young men of color reach their potential. After graduation, Noe plans to attend Palo Alto Community College and then study kinesiology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “I wouldn’t be the student I am today without Diplomas Now,” he said. “I doubt I would even be in school.”