Salt Lake City teenagers Sione Pilivi, Ana Tukunga and Aubrey De La Paz beat the odds and graduated with high school diplomas this week from what some call Last-Chance High: the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center.
And there's a new bonus for those among the 26 percent to graduate: Help getting into college and staying there.
All three teens received scholarships to attend Salt Lake Community College this fall, but the challenge for their peers has been staying enrolled long enough to earn a degree. Only about half of Horizonte students make it to their second year at SLCC.
When students are living on the edge, any slight setback can derail a college dream, said Principal Mindi Holmdahl. Perhaps a child got sick, or a family member had a crisis or the car broke down.
Now, second-year college students from Horizonte can apply for a "continuing" scholarship, money for tuition and books for their second year. It frees up other cash for emergencies.
For nearly 20 years, the Horizonte Scholarship Fund has provided as many as 60 scholarships each year, with individual awards ranging from $500 to $2,000, for a total of up to $57,000.
Kimball Young, a volunteer who oversees the scholarship fundraising, said officials recently noticed second-year students needed more help than those who received first-year scholarships. So officials created "continuing" scholarships, called the Eccles First Generation College Student Scholarships, thanks to the George and Delores Doré Eccles Foundation.
"You have to understand that college is very foreign to them," said Richard Diaz, who mentors the Horizonte students through college. "They are navigating so much on a daily basis, let alone knowing how to get through the college system. [These continuing scholarships] provide life support."
This week, 78 scholarships from the Horizonte Scholarship Fund and matching programs were awarded.
The three teens, Pilivi, 18, Tukunga, 17, and De La Paz, 17, said they felt they didn't fit into a traditional school setting, and Horizonte provided extra attention.
All three had fallen behind in credits and motivation.
"The staff are always willing to help out, not willing to accept failure," Pilivi said.
De La Paz has attended Horizonte since the seventh grade, attending the Rose Park site, one of six satellite campuses. The school annually educates about 800 youth and 4,000 adults in grades 7-12.
"I went from all Fs to all As," De La Paz said. "There's smaller classes, and when we had work, it was in class, so there was more help."
The new mother plans to get her associate degree in business at SLCC and then wants to open a hair salon.
The Horizonte main building, at 1234 S. Main St., is one of the most used public schools in Utah, open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays. It hosts alternative, adult and community education programs. There's also a Young Parent Program that provides parenting and child development classes, child care and assistance with medical services.
In 1994, then-Horizonte Principal James Andersen and his wife, Shannon, along with Ric and Janet Harnsberger, physicians and University of Utah professors, established the Horizonte Scholarship Fund.
Today, the Harnsbergers' son, Daniel, teaches at the alternative school. This year, he taught the first Advanced Placement history class offered at Horizonte. The 14 students are still awaiting their AP grades, but for Harnsberger, just having students take the class is a win.
"Some of these students go to college and don't make it, but that doesn't mean it's not successful," Daniel Harnsberger said. "That expectation is there now [in their family]. A first for many."
How to help
I Those interested in donating to the Horizonte Scholarship Fund can call the Salt Lake Education Foundation at 801-578-8268 or go to bit.ly/17vusaZ .
About the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center
Horizonte (alternative high school) 2012-13
Testing • Same grade-level testing as traditional high schools
Grants • Received $2 million National School Improvement Grant (one of the first alternative high schools to receive the grant)
High school age students • 851
Graduates • 190
College Scholarships • 75
Student demographics • 59 percent Hispanic; 23 percent Caucasian; 18 percent other
Eligible for free/reduced lunch, an indicator of poverty • 84 percent
Special education students • 13 percent
Horizonte Adult Education
Enrollment • 4,858 adults*
Graduates • 509*
Scholarships • 3
Demographics • Students speak 82 languages and range in age from 18 to 85.
* Numbers are preliminary.
Source: Utah State Board of Education and Horizonte Instruction and Training Center