At Mountain Education Charter High School in Cumming, students can put aside the obstacles in their past and graduate from high school on their own terms, at their own pace.
School administrators say that for many of their 85 students, the non-traditional night high school is a second chance, allowing students to achieve no matter what their background or lifestyle might be.
On Tuesday at the Almon C. Hill Educational Center, four Mountain Education students were recognized for their hard work and achievement at the school, and were awarded $5,000 college scholarships from the Rotary Club of Forsyth County and the Bagwell Foundation.
According to Rotary Club spokeswoman Donna Wade, the award, called the Bagwell Scholarship, is part of Rotary’s mission to be involved with youth in the community and support those students who are trying to further their education.
"It is for students who plan on continuing their education at the next level, either attending a traditional college or a technical college within the state of Georgia," Wade said. "These students are chosen based on their outstanding performances, with many of them being the first in their family to attend college."
One of the recognized students, 21-year-old Ismael Contreras, said that with his $5,000 scholarship he will now be able to attend Kennesaw State University to play trombone and support his family.
"This means helping out my family after everything they've done for me," Contreras said. "It's definitely a blessing that I ended up here and that opportunity showed itself. It definitely means a lot.”
Another of the awardees, Robert Castro, said that he never expected to receive the award. It will pay for more than half of his tuition at Gwinnett Technical College, where he is studying to become a welder.
“It’s huge,” he said. "I really didn't think I had a good shot, to be honest. But I really didn't even think I was going to graduate at one point.”
Two other students, Blanca Figueroa and Leah Kobetich, were awarded the Bagwell Scholarship on Tuesday, but were unable to attend the celebration.
During the ceremony on Tuesday night, school administrator Frank Gordy said that the event means everything to their students and families, going beyond the money of the scholarships.
Gordy said that for many of their students who have struggled and gone to great lengths to earn their diploma, the honors night might be the first time they have been awarded for their work.
"A good percentage of our students, for a variety of reasons, have had difficulty in school. Some of them dropped out, some of them got way behind their cohort,” he said. “So this night gives some students an opportunity to be recognized that probably have never been recognized before for their academic prowess.”
In addition to inviting the awarded students and their families to the honors night, Gordy said they also invited the school’s other students to come and celebrate their peers, get inspired and learn about the opportunities available to them.
"Well we hope that’s very impactful to see that these students were sitting where they are not long ago and now hopefully they can see that they can be in this position next year or whenever it may be,” he said. “They can succeed and move on to the next level.”