Horizonte graduates make most of second chance

Published: Wednesday, June 5 2013 6:31 p.m. MDT

Mother and daughter Charidy Miller, left, and Brittany Ward graduate together with more than 500 others during the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center's commencement at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Candelaria Angeles remembers two times when she was afraid.

The first was when she found out she was pregnant. The second was when she began attending Horizonte.

Graduating high school at 16, with scholarships to fund her dream of becoming a neo-natal nurse, Angeles has overcome those fears.

"Like all of you, it begins today," the young mother told fellow graduates Wednesday during the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center commencement exercises at the University of Utah's Huntsman Center.

Wearing a candy lei over her graduation gown and traditional Navajo dress underneath, Angeles told fellow graduates to find ways to silence their fears.

With schools like Horizonte, students are given a chance to become statistics in a more positive way. In the 2012-13 school year, 190 of the 850 high school-age students applied for graduation, as did more than 827 of the almost 5,000 adult students.

Students received more than $100,000 in scholarships, 75 to high school-age students and three to those in adult education.

The school boasts a diverse student body. Fifty-nine percent of the students are Hispanic, 23 percent Caucasian and 18 percent are other ethnicities. Of the adult class, students are anywhere from 18 to 85 years old, speak 82 languages, and 78 percent are ethnic minorities.

Because these students have overcome so much to graduate, including in many cases poverty and relocation to a new country, they have developed unique skill sets and perspectives, according to Horizonte Principal Mindi Holmdahl.

Combined with their education, Horizonte students "truly have the potential to be our future leaders," Holmdahl said.

There was hope in the eyes of the graduates, the kind that comes from knowing someone believes in you.

Student speaker Sione F. Pilivi had this hope in his eyes before walking down to take his place on the stage. Wearing a lei his mother made out of dollar bills, Pilivi said he plans to become a nurse so he can provide treatment and funding for his special needs brother.

He told students to work toward their goals, even if other people try to discourage them from their pursuit.

"Never worry about what others say. Continue to work hard every day to achieve your dreams," Pilivi said.

Horizonte has smaller class sizes, which allows for more one-on-one time with the students, according to volunteer Kimball Young.

Some students attend Horizonte because of excessive absences at traditional high schools, or because of legal trouble. Some are young mothers, who have access to on-site childcare, medical services and family advocacy.

At least 1 million American teens have dropped out of high school, according to the Utah State Board of Education. In Utah, 67,000 adults over 25 are high school dropouts.

Many of the students were given a second chance for education when they enrolled at Horizonte, according to keynote speaker Pamela Atkinson.

"I am in awe of them because of the adversity a lot of them have overcome," she said following the commencement exercises.

Atkinson, who has worked with the poor and homeless populations in Utah, advocated for adult education funding in the Utah Legislature. She encouraged graduates to shere their success with those around them.

"Always, always live your life with integrity. Live as an honest and compassionate person," Atkinson said.

The school received the National School Improvement Grant, which led to more rigorous math and language arts curricula. Holmdahl said she worried the tougher classes would lead to fewer graduates, but 1,017 students applied for graduation this year, almost 100 more than last year.

Horizonte revolves around the philosophy that students come first, a mentality that was established under former Principal James P. Andersen, recipient of this year's individual Horizonte Service Award.

Teachers eat lunch with the students and sit by them in the classroom, Holmdahl said, in an effort to build relationships.

The first period of each day is an advisory period, and that teacher is the main contact for students to help them develop educational and career plans.

Adam Tong, 44, is a Sudanese refugee. He heard about Horizonte while living in Kansas and moved to Utah to obtain a high school diploma. He plans on becoming a lawyer so he can be a leader for his family and help provide them with similar opportunities.

"Horizonte is the key to opening doors for higher education for all ages," Tong said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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