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Former Dropouts and Their Paths to Success

Updated: 9:47 p.m. ET

On Monday we begin American Graduate Week with a panel discussion moderated by senior correspondent Ray Suarez. We hear from several former at-risk students who share their personal stories and lessons learned on how they overcame their situations.

The panel includes:

  • Victor Rios, a former gang member turned sociology professor who mentors and studies at-risk youth. In an earlier NewsHour interview, Rios explained the importance of having someone take an interest in his life early on. “It was important for me to hear an adult tell me, ‘Listen, we know you are a mess-up, we know you are a dropout, but we still believe in you.”

    Watch his story here:

  • Adam Steltzner may have led the landing team for the rover Curiosity on Mars, but he almost didn’t make it to his high school graduation. Stelzner, now popularly known as the NASA engineer with the Elvis hair, struggled throughout school. “I passed my geometry class the second time with an F plus, because the teacher just didn’t want to see me again,” he told NPR. When adults told him he’d never amount to anything, he prioritized a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll. It was science — the constellation Orion, in particular — that later inspired him to go back to school and pursue engineering.

  • Stephanie Krauss: At 15, the self-described “punk kid from New Jersey,” enrolled in rehab; she left a changed woman. Despite a troubled home life and chronic truancies in school, Krauss managed to pass the GED and by 18, she was a college graduate. She is now the president of Shearwater Education in St. Louis, which re-engages young adults back to school. Of the 75 students at Shearwater Education, half of them are parents, a quarter are actively homeless and a quarter are currently in foster care, says Krauss.

Watch her story courtesy St. Louis TV:

Join the Conversation:

As we continue to report on the high school dropout crisis, we want to hear from you. Do you work with at-risk youth or know someone who has dropped out of school? What are some of the lessons learned from your experiences? What is missing in the national narrative to fight the high school dropout crisis?

American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to address the dropout crisis.

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