Raynard Gillespie, an alumnus and program mentor at Excel Academy of Englewood in Chicago, wrote a personal essay featured in Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization reporting on education across America. Raynard shares his journey of dropping out of school in ninth grade and then returning to high school at age 19 and graduating from Excel Academy.

“At this new school, the teachers and staff didn’t give up on me and always pushed me to improve. If my classmates or I got a C, they helped us work toward a B, and then toward an A. Having someone in my corner felt good. I had been holding myself back without realizing it,” Raynard said.

Raynard is now a program mentor for the YS3 (Youth Scholars, Skills, and Service) Program at Excel Academy of Englewood, an accelerated school of choice for students, ages 15-21, who have fallen behind in their studies. Read Raynard’s essay here.