Detours and delinquency:
Helping at-risk youth find their way
By Brittnie Curtis
According to DoSomething.org, more than 1.2 million students each year drop out of high school in the United States alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds or 7,000 a day. Texas State University is taking steps to help reduce this growing problem.
Quest is a new program from Texas State’s Center for P-16 Initiatives. It is a male mentorship initiative that addresses the needs of boys from the San Marcos Independent School District who are at-risk or on their way to dropping out of school. With a focus on getting these boys into a mindset that is more college- or career-focused, the G-Force mentors (Texas State undergraduate students) and Isaac Torres, grant specialist from the Center for P-16 Initiatives, act as their guide.
A ROCKY START
Torres can relate to many of these young men he is trying to help. Born in Los Angeles, his own life has been a complicated journey. When his parents’ relationship dissolved, Torres and his older brother were left without a father figure. Shortly after, his mother moved them to Oregon to get a fresh start.
“I didn’t meet my father until I was 16,” Torres says. “That was pretty significant as far as why I never really developed on time with many of my peers. My father was a drop-out, went to prison and spent most of his adult life homeless. My brother was a high school drop-out, went to prison right after high school. And then I dropped out my junior year. I was perpetuating a cycle.”
With an unstable home life, Torres says going to college was never presented as an option. His path to dropping out of high school began when he was in elementary school. By age 12, Torres was already a behavioral problem, and took pride in being the kid most often sent to the principal’s office. He adopted a persona of “the trouble maker” simply to get attention he wasn’t getting any other way. Once he entered high school, he started to skip more and by 10th and 11th grade, Torres was never in class.
ON THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
After dropping out, Torres worked various jobs for about eight years before he was ready for a change. Frustrated with doing physical labor and coming home sweaty and dirty at night, Torres started looking into getting his GED.
“I had grown very tired of just breaking myself for no money and no future,” Torres says. “The best job I had was at a bakery, and the most I ever made there was $9 an hour. There was no upward mobility; there were no possibilities there for me. I was just frustrated with struggling and barely paying the bills. I wouldn’t have even thought about getting my GED if it wasn’t for a friend’s motivation.”
At a New Year’s Eve party, a friend told Torres he could start to apply for FAFSA the next day. Since he was oblivious to what FAFSA was, his friend broke it down to him. Torres mentioned that he didn’t even have a high school diploma and with her help, he began to take action. After getting off work at the bakery, he would take the bus to Portland Community College and take his GED tests.
Even after earning his GED, Torres said college still wasn’t on his mind. Getting the GED itself was simply closure on the high school chapter of his life for him. The same friend who had encouraged him to look into FAFSA took him to the University of Oregon campus and introduced him to a few faculty and staff. With her help, Torres completed his application, and he was accepted as an undergraduate student double majoring in speech pathology and Spanish.
“I’ve always had a love for language and words,” Torres says. “Reading inspired me to enrich my mind.”
Once he got his degree, Torres moved back to Los Angeles to be around his family. There he worked as at a collection agency, but it wasn’t exactly his dream job. A mentor mentioned to Torres about the master’s program in creative writing at Texas State University. Torres put together his portfolio and applied.
A BRIGHTER FUTURE
When Torres came to Texas State, he got a job as a G-Force mentor in the Center for P-16 Initiatives. G-Force mentors are stationed at local high schools. It’s their duty to help high school students with the college application process and local residents with résumés. At the time, he says, it was just a job, but as he got more involved, it began to mean more to him.
“I realized that my story empowered people,” Torres says. “I worked as a mentor for one year and then [the Center for P-16 Initiatives] got this new grant for Generation Texas. I applied for the position of grant specialist and have been working there ever since.”
Now Torres focuses on giving back to the community by inspiring young adults who were in the same predicament as he was. He sees it as his responsibility to give others the right to choose what they want to do with their lives.
“Getting a young person to realize their personal story and why that matters is very difficult,” Torres says. “It’s critical for me to focus on young people who are starting to slip away. I feel like it’s my duty; I want to try to spare some people the same experiences I went through.”
To find out more about Quest and other programs offered by the Center for P-16 Initiatives, visit its website.