Eagle student turns his education around | VailDaily.com

Eagle student turns his education around

Sarah Mausolf
Eagle, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailySpecial to the Daily

EAGLE, Colorado – Nearly every day, Eagle resident Salvador Garcia used to get calls from the principal of Eagle Valley Middle School.

His son, Gustavo, was in trouble again.

By the middle of his eighth grade year, Gustavo had racked up suspensions for a long list of infractions including beating another student with a badminton racket in gym class.

But just when it seemed Gustavo was destined for expulsion, the teen turned his academic career around.

Those close to Gustavo say he had the courage to overcome his anger and make positive changes in his life.

On May 26, Salvador Garcia was unsure what to expect when he arrived at Eagle Valley Middle School. His son had told him to go to the school, but didn’t elaborate. Was Gustavo in trouble again?

To Salvador’s surprise, his son was the star of a school assembly. As the student body watched, Gustavo received an oversized, $1,000 check. Gustavo had won a scholarship through the Denver-based organization College in Colorado.

Salvador was shocked by what his son had accomplished.

“I went to give him a hug,” Salvador recalled. “I was real happy. I almost cried.”

Gustavo, 15, has cleared many hurdles on his journey from suspensions to scholarships.

“As a sixth grader, he came to me and said he had an anger problem,” middle school counselor Robin Santoro said. “He wanted some help with his anger.”

Despite school officials’ best efforts, Gustavo continued to get in fights with other students. Finally Santoro called a meeting with Gustavo’s parents.

“I said, ‘If this keeps up, I’m afraid he’s going to end up in jail,'” Santoro recalled.

She suggested Gustavo seek help from a private anger management counselor. When Gustavo started seeing counselor Nick Hoeger, the teen reached a turning point.

“(The counselor) told me if I didn’t step up, my whole education would be ruined,” Gustavo recalled.

Instead of fighting in school, Gustavo set his sights on beating 250 other students throughout the state in an essay contest. A motivational speaker from College in Colorado had visited the middle school and told students about the essay contest.

“I just gave it a shot,” Gustavo said. “If I got it, cool, if I didn’t, oh well.”

Gustavo was among five students who won $1,000 scholarships through College in Colorado, an organization dedicated to helping students advance their education beyond high school.

“What struck me about Gustavo is he did a 180 in the past school year from being a bad student and negative leader with his peers to being a positive leader and taking positive steps in his life,” said Lance Carl, director of student outreach for College in Colorado.

Gustavo’s parents were thrilled.

“I was so excited and I wanted to see the best for my kid,” Salvador recalled.

The scholarship meant a lot to Gustavo’s family. Due to a nervous disorder that left Salvador’s arms and legs temporarily paralyzed, he and his wife had been unable to work for several months or save money for Gustavo’s college education.

“The situation right now, we don’t have money to pay for college but I tell Gustavo, ‘You need to work hard,'” Salvador said. “I said ‘Show me you can do it because I want to see you be something, somebody.”

When Gustavo received a school assignment to interview someone about his or her career, he picked a local pilot. Gustavo had never flown in a plane before but the concept appealed to him.

Santoro noticed that Gustavo lit up when the pilot talked about a program that allowed local pilots to take people on plane rides.

“I approached our principal and said, ‘Could we figure out some way to put Gustavo on a behavior plan and the prize would be a flight?'” Santoro said.

Gustavo signed a behavior contract stating that if he didn’t get in trouble, he would ride in the plane. His flight was scheduled for June 4.

Since Gustavo’s breakthrough this past winter, he has not been getting in trouble in school, Santoro said. Instead of pushing kids he doesn’t like, Gustavo said he ignores them. His grades have climbed from Ds and Fs to mostly Cs, his family said.

In his essay for the scholarship contest, Gustavo outlines a new dream for his future.

“I now know what I want to be in the future, a pilot,” Gustavo wrote in his essay.

He wrote that he hopes to attend the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley or the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Instead of fearing he could end up in jail, Santoro now envisions a bright future for Gustavo.

“He’s going to fly on June 4,” she said. “He’s going to get a taste of what it’s like to be up there. He’ll have the successes of this year to improve his self image.”

Santoro predicts Gustavo will work harder in school next year than he ever has before, and might join the football team.

“I think people will come to see him as someone who can dig himself out, do the right thing, make good decisions,” she said. “Whether he becomes a pilot or something else of his choice, he’ll do it. That’s my best hope for him.”

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