DENVER - They all have different stories. But, they all have the same problem - homelessness. Still, they are all set to graduate together from the Urban Peak's General Educational Development program with their GEDs.
"I get to walk across the stage, grab a certificate and say that I did it," Robert Haywood-James, 20-year-old graduate, said. "This is about to open up so much more opportunities for me. It's ridiculous."
Haywood-James is one of 60 students walking across the graduation stage Wednesday night. He faced homelessness after, he says, hanging out with the wrong crowd.
"After dropping out of high school, I really didn't have any intentions or motivation or nothing to go back to or nothing like that," Haywood-James said.
His classmates Million Anteneh and Mariela Weckler Rodriguez have similar stories. Rodriguez says she made bad choices when she was younger.
"I was a really bad kid and I was drinking and I focused on that," Rodriguez said.
Anteneh moved to the United States from Ethiopia. Then, he was kicked out of his home.
"When I got kicked out of the house, I was only here like 3 or 4 years," Anteneh said. "It was kind of hard for me to like live on my own, try to figure things out."
But, they say, Urban Peak, a program aimed specifically at helping students facing homelessness, got them all to believe.
"The youth who come to us have overcome so much trauma," Haley Todd, lead education specialist, said. "They've been kicked out of their homes. They haven't had support systems that they've needed. They've aged out of the foster care."
Todd says Urban Peak tries to give people hope by supporting them in multiple ways.
"We get the basic services, the meals, a safe place to be, somewhere to sleep," Todd said. "And, without that hope and without that relationship that we're able to build at Urban Peak, none of that is possible."
Rodriguez says her life is different now.
"They teach you to never give up," Rodriguez said.
Todd says Urban Peak teachers made a big push to get students to finish their GED tests this year. In January, the whole GED system is changing to match evolving high school curriculum.
"It's going to be huge," Todd said. "That test is going to be much more difficult."
The new GED system will test concepts under new Common Core standards. Plus, the tests will have a job -readiness component.
"When I was informed that it was going to be different the next year, that made me think, well, okay, I'm comfortable with what I have going on right now," Haywood-James said. "So, let me get this done before any changes happen, something that I'm not prepared for."
If Anteneh had not finished all his GED tests before January, all the work done up till then will be erased when the new system takes effect.
"I want to be able to give my son a better future than what I had," Anteneh said.
Haywood-James says he looks forward to his own future which now includes college.
"I get to walk across the stage, grab a certificate and say that I did it," Haywood-James said. "I am about to be the first person in my family to go to college."
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