Posted Date: 08/23/2017
The day following his return from Washington D.C., CHS graduate Alex Acuna-Rice was still smiling. His trip was full of memorable “firsts” from his first time in an airport and on an airplane, to taking an Uber, seeing the national monuments and speaking to members of Congress from Kansas and Missouri.
“I laughed the whole 28 hours I was there,” he said.
Acuna-Rice was one of seven students in this region chosen to “tell his story” to members of Congress in June about the impact the Communities in Schools program had on his education.
“I remember when I first met him,” said Sarah Stockebrand, the CIS site coordinator at the high school. “He told me he could have been a dropout.”
Acuna-Rice said he’d always struggled in school and got involved in the CIS program at Chanute High School when he was a junior.
“I was barely making it,” he said, getting C’s and D’s coming into his junior year.
He was one of many students on Stockebrand’s case load at CHS.
Having CIS in the school takes extra weight off the teachers so they can teach, Stockebrand said. In her role, she provides snacks to students who are hungry, supplies clothing or shoes from a closet of donations she’s solicited from the community, and works alongside counselors to meet students’ physical and emotional needs and connect them with community resources so they can focus on school.
“I saw him almost every single day,” Stockebrand said. He was one of many students who dropped by her office at the end of the 100 hallway during passing period between classes.
“I’d go to Sarah and she’d tell me to keep doing it, keep working at it. She’s a big part of my success as well,” he said.
With Stockebrand’s encouragement, Acuna-Rice set goals and committed himself to really trying in school.
“I’ve got to make an impact. I’ve got to show everybody I can do it,” he told himself. “Dedication was the main goal for the year. To strive for greatness and be dedicated in all I do.” Acuna-Rice said.
Specifically, he wanted to raise his F in analytical geometry and trigonometry as well as his grade point average.
“He completely surpassed that by ending the class with a B and making the honor roll for the first time ever,” Stockebrand said with a smile. “Proud site coordinator right here,” she said, pointing to herself. “He accomplished great things.”
Not only did he raise his GPA, Acuna-Rice received a theatre scholarship from Neosho County Community College and a Foundation scholarship to pay for his tuition, fees and books. The youngest of six brothers, he will be the first in his family to go to college.
“It wouldn’t have happened without the (CIS) program here,” Acuna-Rice said. That’s one of the things he told members of Congress at Washington, D.C. when he attended the Communities In Schools Growth and Impact Convening, that without full funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers and the Corporation for National and Community Service/AmericCorps, students won’t benefit from the CIS program like he did.
“I shared my story … how the organization helped me get through my senior year and graduate and be successful. And how Sarah provided me with the tools to be successful,” he said. “I received food, clothes and additional help with my education. I’ve gained success and more understanding of my surroundings as a person. It’s helped me become smarter and more mature” and able to adapt to life’s situations.
“I actually went to D.C. with almost nothing but clothes donated to CIS,” he added.
Stockebrand said the goal of the Communities in Schools program is to help students succeed in school and in life. It’s a program that the school counselors have said they appreciate having in the high school.
“It’s great to have another advocate for the students, another avenue of support for them, another person to help with those college and career readiness activities and providing academic assistance,” Stockebrand said.
When students grow and succeed, like Acuna-Rice, it’s worth it.
“This was a really big honor (for Alex) to be one of the select few to represent CIS and southeast Kansas and Chanute High school and the community here,” she said.
CHS Principal John Lawrence agreed.
“This is an awesome accomplishment for Alex.” He’s a “very deserving young man,” Lawrence said.
Stockebrand is back in her office at Chanute High School for the 2017-2018 school year.
She’s there to work with students on an individual or referral basis and to offer programs that all students can benefit from, such as the food drives, Save Your Grades tutoring sessions, and high school freshman learn how to manage their finances.
“I’m excited to connect with more students this 2017-2018 school year, to encourage them and help them to be successful in school and in life,” Stockebrand said.
Story by, Connie Woodard