Mikala Rahn is the founder of Learning Works–a charter school in Pasadena, California, for kids who have dropped out of traditional schools.
At StoryCorps, Mikala sat down with one of the first students she helped graduate, Carlos Cruz.
Carlos now works at the school Mikala founded; he is one of several employees called Chasers.
They make sure students get to class, turn in their assignments, and study for tests. Many Chasers were dropouts themselves and a few have been to prison, like Dominick Correy, who served time for burglary.
Dominick often works alongside Carlos, and here the two talk about their job.
Dominick also spoke with one of his students, Anthony Gonzales. When Anthony started at Learning Works, he was partially paralyzed from a drive-by shooting injury.
On June 19, 2012, Anthony graduated from Learning Works and Dominick was right by his side.
Click here for the transcript.
Carlos Cruz: I remember, um, walking into senior year and realizing I was two years behind. And, ah, you looking at me and telling me that everything was going to be okay. And me looking back at you and I’m like, “How the [expletive] do you think everything is going to be okay?”
Mikala Rahn: [Laughs]. Optimism. Hope. Come on. [Laughs]
CC: Yeah, that last year I worked harder than I have ever, ever even thought of even working. I have never, really even felt in my lifetime that I had learned, until those days when I was actually at your house and tutoring. And, I think we were there, ‘til sometimes, ‘til two in the morning. And, ahh, I remember you telling us, that you know, your goal was to help us achieve our high school diploma. Until this day, I honestly have my diploma in my trunk. It goes with me everywhere I go.
MR: [Laughs] It does.
CC: For me that was, I think the biggest thing, I have ever done.
Carlos Cruz and Dominick Correy
Carlos Cruz: Every Chaser has a load of about 35 students. And, um, the main goal of everything we do is to eliminate any and every excuse that they can imagine to why they are not attempting to achieve their high school diploma.
Dominick Correy: A Chaser, you are a mentor. You’re a parent. You’re an alarm clock. Some people say, a truant officer.
CC: Did you ever, in you’re mind, think that helping kids finish school was going to be your job, at any point?
DC: I never thought, going to jail, I would be able to come back and work at a school. I never thought somebody would even give me a chance to work with human beings. It was like, I lost six years in jail altogether, and I terrorized the streets of Pasadena for so long. So, I think if I save one kid from getting shot, or if I save one kid for going to jail, I feel like my six years meant something.
Dominick Correy and Anthony Gonzales
Anthony Gonzales (AG): Four years ago I got shot in the back of the head. And after the bullet hit, I felt like boiling hot water just go down my spinal cord, all the way down to my shoes. And I remember falling to the ground, my head bouncing off of the ground, and then blacking out for a little bit. And I guess that’s when I died ‘cause the doctor said I died for like 27 seconds. I remember being inside of the ambulance, you know, the paramedic pounding on my chest and asking me questions, like where do I live, what’s my house number. And then after that I just fell into a coma.
Dominick Correy (DC): And how long were you out of school?
AG: Two years.
DC: Do you remember your first day here?
AG: Yeah, I walked in, limping. And I saw everybody staring at me, and I was like “I don’t think I want to come here no more.” And then I met you.
DC: How many times did I come early in the morning to come pick you up, you don’t answer your phone, so I come knock on the door.
AG: Can’t even brush your teeth, can’t even go to the bathroom. It’s just “Hurry up. We’re late already.”
DC: What do you think of me?
AG: You’ve always been cool with me, straight up. You were one of us. You went through the [expletive] that we went through. You know, and, I see you now, as a brother.
DC: What do you want for me to do this year to help you graduate?
AG: Don’t ease up now, now is when I need you the most.
DC: If I have to bug you all day and all night to get that work done, then I’m going to do it. Because when you walk across that stage, I’m going to be the first one jumping for joy.