EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

June 9, 2014

Defying obstacles and odds, a tiny but mighty class graduates high school

LAWRENCE — Jonathan Rivera had jumped back and forth between homes in Lawrence and Florida. He didn’t like his high school in the south and felt “dropping out was the perfect solution,” he said.

Back in Lawrence, he worked full-time in a fast food restaurant and followed friends who led him in the “wrong direction,” he said.

Then he found Phoenix Academy Lawrence. And late Friday afternoon, Rivera became one of five members of the academy’s first graduating class.

Surrounded by friends and family, the tiny but tremendously proud graduating class was feted to repeated rounds of applause and standing ovations during the ceremony, held at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill.

Phoenix Academy Lawrence is a public high school focused on putting former high school dropouts on the road to college and career success. Sharply focused on the success of at-risk youth, the school is operated by the Phoenix Charter Academy Network under a collaborative agreement with the Lawrence Public Schools.

The school opened in Lawrence in August 2012, serving 125 students ages 14 to 22 through the Phoenix model of rigorous academics and relentless support. Next year, the school will have 175 students.

All five of the Phoenix graduates are attending Northern Essex next fall and hope to become radiologists, nurses and an FBI agent.

“I felt something tell me I could do it,” said Rivera, recalling his orientation at Phoenix Academy for the 100 or so who attended the graduation ceremony.

He spoke of his early days at Phoenix, were he described himself as hyper and unfocused at first. “Phoenix allowed me to mature in different ways,” he said, noting how important frequent pep talks from staff members were to him.

At times, Rivera said he would stand in front of his classmates at Phoenix and lead community meetings, speaking, he said, “in front of the whole school.” It would something he never imagined himself having the confidence to do.

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