Shantel McNeal: former struggling student turned proud Community School graduate

Shantel McNeal: former struggling student turned proud Community School graduate
Posted on 12/10/2020
Shantel McNeal: former struggling student turned proud Community School graduate

By Kadey Heidrich
Pasadena ISD Communications

Shantel McNeal is a recent Community School graduate. Similar to many students, after facing instability in her home life, McNeal was faced with adult responsibilities, followed by the need to make choices for her future. Prior to enrolling Community School, McNeal attended one of the district’s traditional high schools, but soon found that the combination of a tough situation at home and an increasing workload at school, led her to experience an increase in stress and consider other options for completing her high school education. 

McNeal decided on Community School, a high school of choice in Pasadena ISD that empowers students to reach their full potential by providing self-paced classes in a blended environment. Community School, fondly referred to as the district’s hidden gem by its staff members, gives students at risk of not graduating from high school a second chance to earn their high school diploma. The small school prides itself on providing a personalized experience for each student, calling this personalization their “hidden curriculum.” 

McNeal describes what led her to Community School and why she recommends the program to others. 


Q: What led you to Community School?

A: I was really struggling at my old school. I had my credits and was making B’s and C’s, but I was still struggling. I had problems with some of the teachers and students, on top of problems at home. With every progress report, I felt pressure building on me. At Community School they pressure you, but it’s positive because you know they care about you. 

I also chose Community School because I felt like I needed to start my life and get things going. I didn’t want to wait until May to graduate. 

So, this summer before school started, I called Ms. Elliott, a counselor at my old school. She told me about the program here and has been a constant in my transition from my old school to Community School. 

Q: What was your first week like at Community School?

A: It was good! I can’t tell you how happy I was. It felt like a low pressure environment and I liked my homeroom teacher Ms. Brown. During homeroom, we would set our goals for the week to help us keep focused, I liked that.  

I also liked the homeroom activities. You don’t expect to make friends with the people in your homeroom, but you do. They host icebreakers and you find out you have things in common with the other students, “like oh you have a brother, I have a brother too.” 

Q: What was your experience at Community School like and why did you enjoy it?

A: At Community School they push you, but you can work at your own pace. In the rooms we work in, you don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to. You face a wall and do your work. I don’t have to worry about someone looking at the back of my head. (laughs) They push you, but they’re friendly about it. They build a relationship with you and you build a relationship with them, you can tell they care about you. 

It’s like a family here, they always have my back. They wanted to get to know me, they want to get to know everyone who comes here. Ms. Capra (the principal) knows everyone here. Past students will come back to Community School to say hi and talk about their lives. 

Ms. Jocelyn with the Mckinney-Vento program has also helped me a lot. She helped me stay on track with my work. She made sure I completed my work on time! (laughs)

Q: Do you recommend Community School to others? 

A: Yes, I have recommended Community School to so many people, I’ve lost count. I have friends who are considering dropping out and I tell them about the program here. It lets you work independently and at your own pace. I like that it is like a small school experience. Sometimes it can get overwhelming when there are a lot of other kids around. This way, there is more of a focus on you. Once they hear about the program, a lot of my friends are like, “sign me up!”

Q: What do you want students who are considering Community School to know?

A: They’re going to love it here! The relationships you build here, you can tell people care about you. They want to help mold you into who you want to be. 

They help you transition to the adult stage and teach you how to think about what’s next. For example, if you have to miss school for any reason, they expect you to call like you would at a job. Even if you think you’re going to be tardy, you need to call. It’s important because it helps prepare you for work.  

Q: What do you think your life would have been like if you hadn’t graduated?

A: I don’t want to think about that. I would probably be working full-time at a job I didn’t like. My mom and brother didn’t graduate from high school, so making sure I graduated was very important to me. 

At Community School there is a slogan, “I’m not throwing away my shot.” When I saw that painted on the wall, it almost made me cry, because that’s what Community School was. It was my shot. 

Throughout the school there are encouraging quotes on classroom doors and on the walls. They say things like, “Don’t Give Up” or “Keep Going.” Whenever I would let my mind wander, I would see one of those signs and think, “I’ve got to get back to work.

McNeal poses with her favorite quote at the campus. 

Q: How does it feel to be a graduate? 

A: I feel free! I feel like after earning my diploma I have more opportunities. Now I get to think about where my life is going to go. It’s a positive feeling, but it’s also sad because I got close with the staff here. This was a great experience for me, especially with everything going on. 

Q: What do you want to do now that you have earned your diploma? 

I’m not sure yet. I’ve thought about being a registered nurse or a physical therapist. I have a part-time job right now, but I want to do more. I really like animals, I think animals are the best things ever. (laughs)  If there was a job that would just let me be with horses all day, I would do that. 

McNeal began attending Community School at the beginning of August 2020 and graduated on November 20, 2020.