Shwandra Johnson and James Williams are both caseworkers with HISD. They leave North Forest High School and get into a black Chevy SUV. They’re heading to the homes of the last four seniors on their list.
This is their work with HISD. They find students who’ve dropped out. They ask them to come back to school and get them any other help they need. James Williams says young students have a lot of adult problems.
“You know, it’s not always like people think, like a kid just don’t go to school cuz he’s bad and he don’t want to go.”
Students may be homeless, pregnant or working. Shwandra Johnson says every community is different. North Forest is no exception.
“This little community is so tight, you know, which is good thing, because you look out for one in case if something happens. But when other people on the outside try to come, it makes it difficult because they have that little shield. They protect each other.”
Johnson grew up here. She graduated from North Forest back when it was called Smiley High School. She volunteered for this job. They reach their first stop. They knock at the door. No one’s home. So they got to the next house on their list. It has a sign out front. It says “Way to Go, Grad!”
Nineteen year old Cory Cyrus explains.
“We had a graduation party last Saturday.”
Except Cory still has to pass a state standardized test to actually graduate. He tried to take it this week.
“I retested at 8 in the morning and I couldn’t finish it because they said I couldn’t have my dictionary on my desk when they voided it. Gotta retest it.”
He promises he’ll try again later this week.
They find good news at the last two homes. One student is at summer school. Another reports he’s graduated.
“What school graduated you from?”
He shows them a diploma. It’s from a for-profit school. Williams reminds him not all institutions will accept that. He says it’s worth it to get his North Forest diploma.
“Remember you can go back and take this test and get it. It’s just one test, man. You invested 12 years man. It’s just one test.”
But it’s one test too many. He wants to work on motorcycles. With that, Johnson and Williams go back to North Forest. Johnson says the morning went better than she expected.
“You want to get them graduated; you don’t want to leave anybody behind, you know, as a drop out. So, now we know we got them completed so we can work on the other grade levels.”
She’s already working on the list.