Student Features

Tears, hugs tell graduation day story

Oct 2, 2013

Drew Quintana gets a group hug from those attending a special presentation of her high school diploma

There were many dark days when Drew Quintana was certain she would never, never earn a high school diploma.

"I was so insecure I didn't think I could make it that far," Drew said, smiling shyly as she brushed back a lock of brunette hair underneath her graduate's mortarboard hat.

It came late, but she got her graduation day – complete with cap and gown, decorated cake, pictures and hugs and cards and gifts of congratulations. And on her 19th birthday, too.

A small crowd of PA Cyber staff – many of whom were personally involved in Drew's successful struggle through the Graduate Assistance Program the Student Assistance Program – gathered around her on the third floor of the PA Cyber building at 735 Midland Ave. Tuesday for an improvised diploma presentation ceremony.

GAP program Supervisor Karry Simmel handed Drew her high school diploma, and pronounced in the name of the Pennsylvania Department of Education that she was now and forever after a graduate of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

Several of those attending gave Drew little gifts – a booklet of poetry, a bracelet, bottles of scent and gift cards – but it was the tears in their eyes – and in hers – that told the true impact of this day on her young life. There had been troubles at school and difficulties at home, and she had fallen so far behind in the tally of credits needed to graduate that it appeared very doubtful she ever would.

Most of all, she had lost belief in herself that it could happen.

A resident of PA Cyber's headquarters town of Midland, Drew began to have hope when she came under the wings of special education instructional supervisor Brittany Mentel, Tammi Barney of PA Cyber's Student Assistance Program and Karry Simmel of the Graduate Assistance Program.

"Before I met Tammi and Karry and Brittany, I didn't know that I could do it," Drew said.

"We just helped her to help herself," Tammi Barney said.

According to Simmel, it wasn't a lack of ability that held Drew back. "The biggest change I've seen in Drew is her confidence."

GAP is a program unique to PA Cyber that is designed to mentor students who have fallen one year or more behind schedule academically, and get them to graduation. SAP is a state-mandated program for schools to overcome student social, non-academic "barriers to learning," including homelessness, alcohol and drugs and mental health problems.

Both employ a caseworker system. Trained GAP and SAP team members work in all 12 PA Cyber academies and are staffed in all PA Cyber support centers and are available through satellite offices. Each program served more than 300 students last year. Some, like Drew, received support from both programs.

Simmel said the GAP program, now in its third year, has achieved a 61 percent success rate in helping at-risk students to earn a high school diploma.

What's next for Drew?

She has been accepted into the University of Phoenix with a major in psychology.

"A bachelor's degree in psychology can give me so many options," she said. "I want to help people. I want to write books, to be an author."

About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.