High school has not been an easy place for Henry.
First, he’s struggled with mental illness. And second, he’s transgender. As he transitioned to living life as male, he says that many of his teachers publically ridiculed him and refused to call him by his preferred pronouns.
Fortunately, Henry found Just Us, a program in Nashville dedicated to supporting and advocating for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or intersex.
“Even though school was a horrible environment, I still had that one place where I could be myself and be loved and supported,” Henry said. “That really got me through and I’m thankful for them every day.”
Just Us is offered by the Oasis Center, which connects the most vulnerable youth in Nashville to caring adults and programs that will empower them to navigate adversity. It also runs Nashville’s only no-cost college access center for first-generation college students, Oasis College Connection.
Henry is scheduled to graduate from high school this summer, and he shared his story at the
“Bridging the Gap: Every Student, Every Family” GradNation Community Summit on May 12. Alignment Nashville hosted the event at Travecca Nazerene University, bringing together students, educators, and community members to discuss ways to keep even the most vulnerable of Nashville’s youth engaged and on a pathway to success.
The summit both allowed students like Henry to talk about the programs and interventions that helped them through difficult times and provided a platform for community leaders to share their own efforts at helping students succeed.
Dr. Ron Woodard, principal of Maplewood High School, believes that helping students succeed starts with helping them imagine what success looks like, and he encourages students to start imagining their lives after high school long before they graduate.
“I remember being a student in high school and no principal ever asked me about my future, my college plans, my goals,” he said. “I make it a point to talk to students about their goals.”
Of course, Maplewood doesn’t just ask students to envision success, but gives them the tools they need to make it a reality. Students at Maplewood regularly receive help writing essays, college test prep, and guidance with financial aid through the school’s College Zone program sponsored by the Martha O’Bryan Center. They’ve also had access to the Oasis Center’s Oasis College Connection program.
He added that while these services are crucial for helping students overcome real barriers to success, student agency and empowerment is equally important.
“Thousands of kids come to school each day with a load that they didn’t ask for. They come to school with adversity,” he said. “We must teach kids to self-advocate when they need help.”
America’s Promise Alliance is working with community partners across the country to host 100 community summits through 2016. This initiative is part of its GradNation goal to reach a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020.
Each community summit convenes multi-sector leaders to identify challenges facing young people in their communities and develop strategies to address them.
To learn more about community summits or find one in your area, visit our GradNation community summits webpage.