• High School graduation at an all-time-high with help of Communities in Schools Jacksonville

    By: Courtney Cole , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    A local program designed to keep Duval County Public School students on the path to graduation is preparing to celebrate a huge milestone.

    One student will be the first person in their family to graduate from high school and go to college — while the other will be the first person to go to college in her family.

    Action News Jax's Courtney Cole shows us the life-changing impact of Communities in Schools Jacksonville.

    Cyniya Haynes and Angel Ray say the four years they've spent at Andrew Jackson High School have gone by veryquickly.

    They said they can hardly believe graduation is only two weeks away.

    Haynes told Action News Jax Courtney Cole she worked full-time with Florida Blue, while still keeping up with her studies and the cheerleading team.

    "Sometimes I didn’t go to sleep until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. and then I have to be right back up at 5:30 a.m. I’d be so tired."

    Haynes will be the first in her family to graduate from high school and go to college.

    She’s excited about it, but a bit nervous to embark on the next part of her journey, too.

    "Because I’m going to be in the real world, taking care of myself,” Haynes said.

    Ray also tackled work and school—keeping her grades up while working at Harveys Supermarket.

    She will be the first in her family to go to college--but says she wishes she could bring one very special person with her.

    "I’m ready, but I’m not ready. I’m not ready to leave my mom…I’m not ready to leave like most kids,” Ray said.

    What Haynes and Ray share, besides a graduation date, is the woman who helped get them there - Ms. Twilla Washington.

    "I love the impact we have on students trying to help them eliminate any academic barriers or any barriers to succeeding," Washington said.

    She's a site coordinator with Communities in Schools Jacksonville.

    The program was first introduced in Duval County in 1990 to make sure students graduate from high school.

    Washington says the support and empowerment from elementary school to now has made all the difference with these young ladies.

    “I’m trying not to cry for one, but to see these babies that I’ve had since 2009 when I initially started with Communities in Schools--and just to see them blossom into the women they are now… about to go into the real world with careers and going off to college soon… It’s overwhelming,” Washington said.

    28 years and thousands of students later—Communities in schools continues to play a key role in dropout prevention in Duval County.

    “Unfortunately, some of our students are at risk for not graduating. They don’t have that motivation [and that lack of motivation comes from] either negative peer influences, some come from backgrounds with poverty or hunger. It’s just a whole gamut of social problems they’re having to deal with that 30 years ago in high school, we didn’t have to deal with,” Washington said.

    The program is funded by the City of Jacksonville through Kids Hope Alliance, Duval County Public Schools and federal money, in addition to private donations.

    Duval County has reached their all-time-high graduation rate of 80.8 percent—and Communities is Schools is proud to play a part in that.

    In fact, 93 percenrt of seniors in the CIS program are on track to graduate in the spring.

    For any students that may be reading this, Haynes and Ray want you to pass on what they’ve learned from Washington:

    “Giving up is not an option, your best is yet to come.”

    For more information about Communities in Schools Jacksonville, or how you can get involved, click here.

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