Last year, shortly before school ended, 35 credit-deficient seniors were sent to get help or face not graduating from high school. The face that they came to know as they earned the right to graduate belonged to Ariana Sanguino, one of United Way’s Family and Youth Specialists. Working daily at Ogden High School, Ariana helped almost75% of those students earn back their missing credits and go on to graduate, while others committed to keep working throughout the summer. Overall, Ogden High’s graduation rate went up 8% last year.
Ariana recalls working with a student in the school’s Achievement Club last year who was in a bad family situation and had a GPA below 1.0. With a goal of playing sports, he committed to working harder at school, got tutoring help, and raised his GPA to 3.8. Though he didn’t make the first team he tried out for, he told her that “giving up isn’t really an option, so I’m going to try again next year,” and has since earned a place on this year’s team.
Ariana’s job is to connect students and their families to the help they need, “whether they’re in a crisis or they’re just in a pickle and need some help.” These resources might include after school tutoring or credit recovery, but they also might address chronic problems such as lack of food and shelter, transportation, or family relationships. She has stocked the school’s new Sunshine Closet with food, clothes, and hygiene items so students with immediate needs can get help and return to the classroom ready to learn. Then she can work with the family and student to find long-term solutions through local resources, such as budget and career help from Cottages of Hope.
One unusual feature of Ariana’s Sunshine Closet is that it includes a section for teen moms. “We lose a lot of our teen moms early on because they don’t have a support system,” she explained. They face barriers to finishing school, such as not having a supply of diapers or adequate daycare. After providing short-term help with supplies, she can work with partners such as Ogden-Weber Community Action Program to help these moms enroll their children in Headstart or daycare programs. Then these students can finish high school and provide a better future for themselves and their children.
Ariana’s office space has become a magnet to students as she has built relationships with them, which is exactly what she hoped. “I want the kids know that they can come to me, and if I can’t help them right there and then I will work all night to find a way to help them be successful.” She spends her days visiting students and families in their homes, organizing tutoring and working with the Achievement Club, providing opportunities to learn interview and budgeting skills, and making sure everyone in the community is connected to the resources they need.
“My ultimate goal is to help the whole family, because without the support system the student can’t be successful in school,” she said. High school takes students one step further on the path to their educational and career goals. United Way’s partnership with Ogden School District, through the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood, is bringing opportunities to those who need it most, one student at a time.