back on track

The Back on Track initiative is a partnership between 90% by 2020, United Way of Anchorage, Covenant House and the Anchorage School District that allows homeless and at-risk youth to earn credits they need to get their high school diploma. United Way of Anchorage was awarded $750,000 over 2 years through the AT&T Aspire Grant to support this initiative. United Way of Anchorage contributed over $57,000 and BP contributed $30,000 to hire teachers for the initiative, supporting our youth in achieving high school graduation in Year 1 of the program. 

In its first year, Back on Track enabled 49 students to earn their high school diploma, with a total of 268 high school students served in the program. In addition to offering extra support in class, Back on Track provides wrap-around services that help students with non-academic needs, such as food, shelter, transportation, counseling, and assistance with navigating complicated state and federal systems. This model is key to student success: allowing students to be able to focus on completing their high school credits by providing support for addressing other challenges they face on a daily basis. Getting the right supports to the right students at the right time, consistently. 

Here are just a few stories from our Year 1 graduates. 


HAROLD O'DIMON

Harold “Hammer” O’Dimon grew up in the village of Kokhanok on the shores of Iliamna lake. He moved to Anchorage 6 years ago and was on track to continue his education at Dimond High School. Tragically, both of Harold’s parents passed away before he entered high school. He found it hard to focus on school and fell behind. His sister recommended that he start taking the evening class at North Start Elementary through the Back on Track program for extra help. Then during his senior year, Harold transferred to the AVAIL Aspire evening program at Covenant House where he was able to make up his missing credits and graduate on time with his peers. Harold enjoyed how fast he could complete credits in the program and appreciated all the one-on-one help he received. And the flexible schedule allowed him to finish the credits on his timetable.

Harold was motivated to get his diploma because he knew it was the key to being successful in life. Now that he has it he plans to earn his pilot’s license and become a commercial pilot. This summer he will go to South Naknek as a commercial fisherman.


GRAYWOLF SCRUGGS

Graywolf "Gray" Scruggs spent a good part of his childhood in Talkeetna, he enjoyed living in a small town and grew accustomed to it. This made it difficult for him when he attended a 2,000 student school. Gray felt like school was a waste of time, he did not feel like he was learning or able to get individual help. He found it difficult to succeed in his classes and his grades suffered. After a brief time at Bartlett he enrolled in King Career Center and used the Back On Track system to finish his other credits. There he realized that school could be interesting and practical. He always had a love for cars and was able to apply that by taking automotive classes.

Despite his young age Gray was responsible for supporting himself and thus had to work full time. He liked that the Back on Track program allowed him that flexibility. He was able to work at his own pace and come to school on days that fit with his busy schedule. He appreciated the small class size and the staff that was available to give him the help and attention that he needed.

Perhaps the biggest factor in his success was his own self-motivation. Gray says that he was inspired to succeed by watching his mom. Despite giving birth to him and his sister at a young age his mother worked tirelessly to provide a stable life for them. She delayed her personal educational goals to take care of her children but still returned to complete her GED. From his mother Gray learned the value of hard work and perseverance. He knew that having a diploma was the key to success and is now the 2nd person in his family to graduate from high school. Now Gray hopes to pursue his dream of becoming a master mechanic.


SPENCER SALSMAN

Spencer spent most of his high school career moving around. After living in Hawaii, False Pass, King Cove and Anchorage, he found it hard to get settled in any one school. He wound up at Service High for his senior year, but it wasn’t a good fit and felt he was doing busy work. He hadn’t connected with teachers or students and after moving to another part of town, it was difficult to get to school. He was introduced to Barb Dexter from the Anchorage School District’s Child in Transition (CIT) program and she set up a transportation plan to get him to school. Then she noticed that because he wasn’t engaged in school, he wasn’t doing well. Spencer is a bright student but also easily distracted when he isn’t engaged in what he is learning. Barb helped him change his schedule at Serve to better meet his needs, and then modified it once more when that wasn’t working either. Three classes shy of graduating, Spencer started at the CIT’s evening class. The program helped but Spencer had a hard time focusing and only attending once a week. Barb then suggested the Back on Track evening class at Covenant House and Spencer gave it a try. It was a good match and Spencer was able to finish his core credits at his own pace while still attending his computer tech class at King Career Center (KCC).

Spencer appreciated that the Aspire classes allowed him to work independently but that he still had adults supporting and encouraging him to make progress. He wanted to complete his high school diploma because he was ready to move on to the next chapter of his life and knew that earning a diploma would help him be more successful. Now that he has achieved this goal Spencer wants to enroll in AVTEC to extend his learning about networking and computer hardware. In the meantime, he hopes to get a summer job working at either GCI or AT&T. He sees those as having career potential where he will be able to work with technology that he enjoys and utilize his unique skills and abilities.


CODY TOBLER

Cody had been a bright student and a talented basketball player. Then one day, a car accident derailed his life. He was left with a paralyzed arm and impaired memory. It became difficult to focus at school and he started to fall behind in classes. His guidance counselor recommended he complete his credits through the AVAIL school’s Back on Track program. The program worked for him and he was able to get his high school diploma in the spring of 2017.

Cody appreciated the wraparound services that Back on Track was able to provide, and having people in his corner to help take care of his needs and encouraging him to succeed. He also loved being able to play basketball at Covenant House. despite only having use of one arm, Cody is still able to dominate on the court. Now that he has his diploma, Cody says that a fire has been lit under him. He is excited to take on new challenges and plans to attend UAA for culinary arts, business, and to play basketball.