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Thurman Anderson has overcome more challenges than most adults face in a lifetime. His mother, a high school dropout, rarely worked. To provide for his family, Thurman sold candy and then drugs while still in elementary school. He fought to protect his siblings from poverty, neglect, and physical abuse. When he was nine years old, Thurman and his siblings were removed from their home and separated by the foster care system. He has struggled to stay in touch with his siblings ever since. Four years and five foster home placements later, Thurman met Jon and Nia West-Bey. He described them as the first people who could “provide a home where I could finally find my place and where people wanted me.” The West-Beys adopted Thurman after seven years in foster care. “I know for a fact that they love me for who I am,” he said. Thurman is now a student at Washington Latin Public Charter School where he is passionate about being a leader and mentors fellow students. One of his teachers described Thurman as “one of the greatest ambassadors for our school.” Thurman is excited that he will be the first in his biological family to attend and graduate from college.
Andrew Finein came into the world with the odds stacked against him. He was born mute, unable to utter a sound until he was 2 ½ years old. Diagnosed with a host of mental and physical problems, doctors told his mother he would never be able to care for himself. Andrew’s early years were spent in therapy learning to speak and do basic tasks like tying his shoes. Years of hard work paid off when he was able to start kindergarten on time. Today, 17-year-old Andrew is taking several college level classes and excels academically. Adults who know Andrew marvel at his positive attitude and strong work ethic. He dedicates long hours to his studies and works at the local community television station to help support his family. Andrew is a skilled cameraman and has spent many hours mentoring and sharing his technical skills with younger students. He wakes up early every morning and walks more than a mile to volunteer at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School to help students with morning announcements. Andrew is looking forward to becoming the first in his family to finish college.
As a child, Leland Kraatz’s home life was filled with anger and despair. His alcoholic father terrorized the whole family. Leland did not have a good relationship with his father who appeared to favor his two older sisters. When Leland was 10, his father was arrested after his sisters revealed he had been abusing them. Leland’s mother became severely depressed and struggled to make ends meet. Money was tight and food was scarce. Home-schooled by their mother for years, the neglected children were left to educate themselves. By the time Child Protective Services intervened, Leland had never had formal schooling and was years behind academically. Leland and his sister Chelsea moved in with their aunt and uncle. “For the first time in my life I was truly part of a real, functioning family the way it should be,” said Leland. Since then, Leland has worked extremely hard to adjust academically and socially. He is thriving in his new life despite his tumultuous childhood. Although he entered school for the first time in ninth grade, he has maintained a 3.82 grade point average and tutors other students in biology and chemistry. He has joined the wrestling team, actively participates in his church and performed in a recent school theater production.
Anh Luong is the youngest of five children born to Vietnamese immigrants. She grew up in extreme poverty in an unstable home with parents who battled substance abuse. Child and Family Services removed her two oldest siblings from the home when she was a baby and her parents struggled to keep the rest of the family together. When Anh was nine years old, she was assaulted by a family friend. She stopped going to school and failed the fourth grade. She and her two older brothers then bounced back and forth between foster care and their parents’ home for the next few years. However, her life changed for the better when she and her brother Vu moved to a stable foster home but Anh suffered another blow in eighth grade when she found out her mother was HIV positive. Anh remembers vividly the fear and despair she felt during this time. She said she wanted to “give up on life. I began thinking that my life was cursed.” Anh decided to follow in her brother’s footsteps and worked hard to gain acceptance at the academically rigorous Benjamin Banneker High School. Today, Anh is a hard working senior on the path to college. “I have learned that if I share my story and share the struggles that I’ve been through, then I can reach out to others and help them to overcome as well,” said Anh.
When Mustafaa Nuraldin’s teachers describe him, they paint the picture of an ideal student—thoughtful, serious and polite—but just a few years ago Mustafaa was failing most of his classes at McFarland Middle School. A precocious child, Mustafaa learned to read early and excelled in elementary school. But a hostile environment in a new middle school disturbed him. He described it as “rowdy and violent, so much so that metal detectors were necessary. In addition to the crazed student body, there were a number of teachers who didn’t do their job.” Mustafaa started skipping school, choosing to read at a local bookstore. By the end of the year he was failing his classes. “I didn’t care about anything. I had no priorities or goals, and everything I did reflected my indifference,” explained Mustafaa. His mother and grandmother began searching for a school that could reach Mustafaa. They enrolled Mustafaa at Washington Latin Charter School where teachers have encouraged his love of reading and creative writing. Mustafaa decided he didn’t want to end up like his alcoholic, absent father and his attitude toward school changed completely. Last year, he made honor roll for the first time since sixth grade and he plans to study philosophy or creative writing in college. He is described by one of his teachers as “an old soul, a wise young man, a student with perfect moral pitch.”