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Linda Mah
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Graduate 2019: Tre’Quan Hayes

Phoenix Provides a Different Path to Achievement

At the Phoenix High School commencement, graduate Tre’Quan Hayes thanked the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education for realizing the impact of one word: “alternative.”

Phoenix used to be known as Phoenix Alternative High School. That word comes with a stigma, a perception that the building and the program is less than. A belief that the students are all troubled.

Hayes, 18, however, graduated from Phoenix this spring. He did it with a 3.5 grade point average. He did it while working three jobs. He did it while attending church twice a week. And, he noted, he couldn’t remember the last time he had so much as a referral in school.

Hayes was also named the school’s first valedictorian, an honor newly installed at Phoenix to emphasize the academic achievements of its students.

Hayes took a break from his job as an activity helper at Milwood Elementary School to talk about the impact that Phoenix had on his life.

Hayes enrolled in Kalamazoo Public Schools in the sixth grade after attending several smaller schools and school districts. He was not a bad student, but his first two years at Kalamazoo Central High School were a little rough.

“One thing that didn’t work was Kalamazoo Central was a big school,” Hayes said. “I tend to get distracted easily. I’m very known. I like to have conversations with people, and I tend to lose track of my work.”

Dropping out, however, was never an option he even considered. He’d witnessed the effects of quitting on other family members. He wanted to create a different history for his family. He was also determined to graduate with his peers. “I didn’t want to be the laughing stock and graduate after everyone else in my class,” he said.

After transferring to Phoenix, he saw a noticeable improvement in his grades.

“I thought, ‘why couldn’t I do this at Kalamazoo Central?’” he said. “I realized it’s because I’m in a smaller environment. There are not a lot of people in the classrooms. The teachers can pay more attention to you and spend more time with you one-on-one. They say, ‘If you talk to me and give me a heads up when you’re having trouble, I can help you.’”

Mr. Hill.

Mrs. Wilson-Banks.

Mr. Motley.

Mrs. Huntington.

Mr. Clay.

Mrs. Valler.

Mr. Friedman. T

hey all had an impact.

Phoenix Principal Mark Hill remembers when he first saw Hayes as a freshman walking from store to store on the west side, turning in job applications. He lived on the Northside, but told Hill he was walking because he was saving his bus tokens in case of an emergency.

When Hayes told him he was struggling in school, Hill encouraged him to try his high school. “I’m glad he made the decision to try Phoenix,” Hill said.

“I saw the leadership potential in that young man, so I provided him with every leadership opportunity at Phoenix. He was a leadership sponge. Every opportunity, he absorbed. Eventually, he started setting goals for himself.”

Hayes’ positive interactions with teachers and staff at Phoenix as well as part-time jobs as an activity helper at Milwood and Parkwood-Upjohn elementary schools have inspired Hayes to think about pursuing a degree in education when he enrolls in Coppin State University in Maryland in the fall. Coppin is one of the country’s historically black colleges and universities — or HBCU.

“There are so many kids that just need guidance,” he said. “And I realized that when I was growing up there were not a lot of male teachers. Students need this kind of support. They need someone who really understands what goes on. You can tell a lot goes on at home and it shows at school. They can’t control that. They need support from a young male adult, a mentor.

“I work well with kids. They respect me and I know how to talk to them. I’m not just the one yelling at them, but I check a kid and say, ‘You’re in the wrong now.’ I’m quick to converse with them and understand what’s going on. I spill into them as they grow.”

Among others who have made an impact on Hayes are various Galilee Baptist Church leaders who he’s worked with through the years, including Pastor Michael T. Scott, Deacon Raymond Ryan, Deacon Jerome Gardner, Mike Lawler, president of media ministry; youth director Dorla Bonner, Brother Edward Harris, and former Galilee minister Leon Coleman III, as well as Stones Church youth director Aaron Williams.

But perhaps his biggest sources of inspiration are his mother Chalita Smith, who is always his biggest supporter, and two of his younger sisters who live with them: La’nija Williams, a freshman at Kalamazoo Central, and Miracle Williams, a seventh grader at Hillside Middle School.

“I want my sisters to go to college,” he said. “I’ll be the first male in my family to go to college. I want to give them a bigger picture, to be able to say, ‘My brother did it, and I can do it too.’ I just want to see my mom proud of me. My mom is my biggest motivator because she’s always been real with me.”

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