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Genesis of a Dream : As 6th-graders, they were offered college money if they stayed in school. Where are they now? : ‘You Need More Than a High School Diploma’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Name: Danielle Harris

Age: 17

School: Dorsey High School

Goal: Cosmetology

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Last year, Danielle cut so many classes she was making Ds and Fs in all her courses.

“I was tired of getting up early and putting up with teachers who had an attitude,” Danielle says. “I wanted to be out of school and finished.”

Her mother, Beverly, has another explanation: A boyfriend was a bad influence. “It involved a young man who got kicked out of school and wasn’t doing very well,” she says.

Whatever caused her slide, Danielle has reversed her situation. This year, the boyfriend is gone and she’s earning A’s and Bs.

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And she knows how her situation improved. First, Dream project coordinator Marta Melendez visited her school and found out what was happening. Then Melendez notified Danielle’s parents and the three persuaded her to return to classes.

“Mrs. Melendez prepped me up to start doing good,” Danielle says. “She got on my case. Put it like that.”

Danielle’s father, an aerospace worker, and her mother, who works for the phone company, also kept the pressure on. “My mother stayed on me . . . and . . . it would affect my weekend agenda. No going to the movies and hanging out if my schoolwork wasn’t finished.”

Danielle lives with her parents and five siblings in South-Central Los Angeles. She says she always enjoyed styling the hair of her dolls and her relatives and is considering a cosmetology career. But, she says, she’s also thinking about college.

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“If it wasn’t for this program, I probably would not be thinking about (what happens) after 12th grade. . . . With this program I’m thinking that since I have the opportunity to go to college, I might as well get a degree since you need more than a high school diploma to make it.”

That kind of thinking has made Melendez and Danielle good friends.

“Even when I am older, she’ll be my friend,” Melendez says. “Not that I love her more than my other students. But I connect with her more. She’s more mature. She’s very confident in herself. . . . (And) I can tell her things the way they are. She will understand or she will say she doesn’t believe that.”

Her mother says that even when she reprimands Danielle, her daughter may disagree but she also listens. “My husband and I reason with her,” she says. “We try to let her express her (ideas) too.”

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Danielle describes herself as intelligent and caring. “I seem to put other people’s feelings before mine,” she said.

And there’s one other thing. “I’m nosy,” she says. “I want to know everything that’s happening. What happened and when and how it started.”


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