"This is something that I thought is was impossible, it was going to be impossible for me."
Inside a small chapel at Rice University, 23-year-old Adriana Contreras is positively beaming. She's one of eight graduates of Newcomer Charter School who marched down the aisle recently and on to better lives.
"People like me, they want to study, and they can't go because they got stuck because of their age or something else. This is the best the district could do for us."
The Houston School District started the Newcomer experiment in early 2005, a place where older high school students who needed flexible schedules could get their high school diplomas. 24-year-old Michael Gonzalez wants to be a chef and has already enrolled in Houston Community College.
"For me, this school gives me the new way to see life and gives me the opportunity to get an education. I say to everyone who can go to school that they can get a good education for their future."
Students at Newcomer typically work during the day and attend classes at night. They're usually able to finish high school in a couple of years by taking accelerated courses. 23-year-old graduate Yuliana Bautista says she wants to study business administration. She's had to support herself with a full-time job during the day.
"It's very hard, very hard, because my parents aren't here and I have to support myself. It's hard but not impossible. Everyday, I told myself my dreams and my goals and just tried to get it and I did."
Newcomer director Monico Rivas is like a proud parent as he watches his students march toward improved lives and brighter futures. He says most have overcome challenging situations to graduate.
"These students have been working hard, doing everything that is needed, all the adjustments in their personal lives, their work, just doing whatever it takes to make it happen. So we're just glad to be a part of that."
It's no secret that many of the 223 students at Newcomer are undocumented immigrants, but by state law, the district can't ask about their immigration status. Steve Amstutz is the principal at Lee High School where the Newcomer School was based until a recent move to a new campus.
"What we like about that is it lets us focus on what schools are really for, which is about teaching and learning. The debate about immigration, which is a fair and just debate in this country, is not a debate that should reside inside the school house. Schools need to be able to do what schools do best, which is teach young people to be successful in their adult lives."
You can find out more about the Newcomer Charter School through a link on our website, KUHF.org