How One Charter Student Overcame Adversity to Rise to the Top of His Class
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How One Charter Student Overcame Adversity to Rise to the Top of His Class

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  • Megan Gilbertson, Arizona Charter Schools Association


With a knock on the door, Erik Avila’s life changed forever. His father and two younger brothers were forced to move to Mexico, but Erik, then just 16, was determined to finish high school, graduate from college and live the American dream.

“When the police came to the house I said, ‘I’m a U.S. citizen.’ I knew my rights, so I was able to stay,” said Erik. “I wanted to stay because I was involved in school a lot and had college in mind.”

How One Charter Student Overcame Adversity to Rise to the Top of His Class 480x247All alone and needing to support himself, Erik considered dropping out of NFL Yet College Prep Academy, a high performing school in the Espiritu charter network in south Phoenix, but his teachers and the school’s principal encouraged him to stay in school.

“At that time, he was really struggling in the sense of, ‘what am I going to do?’” said NFL Yet School Leader Arlahee Ruiz, who is also the 2015 Charter School Transformational Leader of the Year. “I think NFL became that other shoulder of support. There were times that got very difficult for him and he did not know what to do. We encouraged him and gave him hope.”

With the support of his school, friends and the community, Erik graduated at the top of his class and earned a full scholarship to South Mountain Community College, where he attended for a year before transferring to the University of Arizona.

During this time, Erik’s brothers had returned to California to live with extended family and were struggling in an unstable living situation. So, in March of 2014 Erik made the decision to work with the state of Arizona to get legal guardianship over his brothers Pedro and Jorge, now ages 17 and 15.

As the foster parent of his two teenage brothers, Erik, 22, put his college education on “pause” to ensure his brothers “get the same opportunities that I had,” he said.

He enrolled them in NFL Yet. He made sure they were involved in clubs and activities, and instilled his work ethic and college-bound goals in them.

Now as the parent, Erik said the school is an extension of their family and supportive of his parenting decisions.

“Even now I’m really hard on them when it comes to school and getting good grades. Whatever happened in the past is not an excuse. I still want them to perform,” said Erik. “If I was able to provide them all of those opportunities, then they don’t have an excuse. NFL knows their situation and holds them to the same expectations that I do.”

Erik said through it all, his charter school helped changed his life for the better.

“NFL taught me leadership, and helped me come out of my shell,” said Erik. “It’s a very small school, granted we didn’t have the best campus or the best resources… but the servant leadership and culture I took away from it is invaluable.”

About Charters Changing Lives
With negative headlines splashed across news outlets, the hard work of our K-12 teachers and leaders is sometimes overshadowed and forgotten.

We want to change that.

Our Charters Changing Lives campaign is a way to share the stories that are often overlooked: to recognize the efforts of our students, teachers, leaders and community members who dedicate their lives to ensuring student success.

With 556 public charter schools serving over 170,000 students, charters play an integral role in shaping the lives of Arizona’s youth. We plan to share how Arizona’s charter schools are changing lives every day.