At Interagency Academy in South Seattle, Principal Kaaren Andrews recruits students who've dropped out of school or are at risk of not graduating. She gives them another chance.
Interagency graduation is June 22. Here are two graduating seniors' stories, in their own words.
Jeremiah Rademacher, 19: We’re from Minnesota. I grew up in poverty, like, no money, eating at shelters. I’ve been homeless before, when I was a kid. My parents were drug addicts. So just trying to do it by myself. But 16, 17 years old, it’s pretty hard. I was in and out of school.
Lamonta Steward, 18: Freshman year I was at Garfield – an A and B student. Then my mom had got sick to the point where we had to relocate, so I ended up moving back to Chicago.
Jeremiah: I started getting into narcotics, and selling narcotics just to put some food on the plate for me, my mom, my grandpa, my niece.
Lamonta: My grandparents had flew out here and they wanted my mom to move back with them. So they left before I left so I had no one to really guide me, you know? I’ve always been with my mom my whole life. No dad, really. I had no more guidance. That backbone was absent. My head wasn’t on straight. I was just never going to school.
Jeremiah: My girlfriend was pregnant at the time. I found out that Seattle is a big place for helping homeless and stuff like that, they do really good for helping kids. So I’m gonna give it a shot. It’s better than doing what I’m doing.
Lamonta: I’d sleep my day away. Or be on Facebook, trying to find something not to think about what’s really going on. Smoking weed. I felt like that was a getaway drug. I could've been at school. I should've been at school.
Jeremiah: So I moved here. I was homeless, but I was going to a place called UDYC [University District Youth Center] in the U-District, and they were giving us a bunch of resources. Helped us out with Medicare and all that.
Lamonta: My mom was always there, calling me and everything, but she wasn’t even at her best, so she didn’t ever know what was going on. 'Cause we didn’t want to let her know what was really going on. Just trying to keep a lot from her, just to keep the stress level down.
Jeremiah: We stayed on the street. On the Ave, in the U-District. Right in front of the post office I was sleeping in tents.
Lamonta: At the end of the school year we had moved down there – Rockford, Illinois. Before even moving out there, my auntie and my two younger cousins were burnt down and shot in the head and killed. That shook my family up. Then I came back there just to better myself because that’s not the environment for me. It was survival mode.
Jeremiah: I’m like, "I’m not really moving anywhere, I’m just kind of stuck. I've got to start going back to school." So I came down to Columbia City and found out about Interagency.
Lamonta: I happened to see Kaaren [Andrews] in Portland, and she was like, "Are you graduating?" and I said, "No, I’m nowhere close to graduating." She was just like, "Come up to the school," and I just came. She told me, "You’re going to graduate." So I had that mindset, and I was just knocking classes out.
Jeremiah: They helped me in so many different ways. They got people to get us a new tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses to help us as much as they could.
Lamonta: My mom’s a teacher, you know, so what does that look like – you’re trying to give your all to others and your own child can’t graduate. I just had that in the back of my mind at all times, really.
Jeremiah: I kept going to Interagency to get my diploma. [My girlfriend] was doing the same thing. But it was really hard because trying to take care of a baby in a tent and going to school at the same time is exhausting, it’s stressful, it’s all of the above.
Lamonta: The staff here is just unbelievable. When you can feels somebody’s presence and know they care, that’s gonna push you by itself. No matter how much they get on you, how much they get on your nerves. The love was there. It was unconditional. I really did love that. I vibed to that.
Jeremiah: They told me about a program called YouthCare’s YouthBuild. They teach you construction, they get you your diploma, they get you your license, they get you a bunch of certifications, then they put you to work. And they pay you. I couldn't believe that was even possible. Pay me? To get my diploma? And do some work? OK, sure!
Lamonta: I thought I was just going to be, I don't know, find a job or something. But I worked my way here, and ended up with a scholarship to Green River [Community College].
Jeremiah: I graduate YouthBuild in about three weeks. I’m gonna be working in less than a month. My girlfriend is one class away from getting her diploma. We’re going to walk this Wednesday for our graduation. My son is seven months on the first [of July]. And I owe it all to Interagency.
Lamonta: I'm just appreciative. Now it's just on to the next level: college. Just bettering myself.
Jeremiah: I never thought it would happen. I’m going to be the first person in my family to make it happen. All the people telling me I wouldn’t be able to? I’m just going to be smiling and proving them wrong. I’m going to have a huge billboard saying "Jeremiah made it!"