KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The "traditional" path for a high school student is anything but these days.
A growing number of students are faced with unique and complex life issues that don't always translate into the classroom and can bring their education to a halt.
Working to bridge that adversity with education, is Kansas City Public Schools and the Metropolitan Community College Penn Valley Campus, which partnered back in 2018 to create the KCPS Middle College Program.
"Because there was a place for this - I mean there’s kids that would rather come here then go to a regular high school,” the program’s extended learning coordinator, Annette McDonald, said about creating the program.
One of the first students to enter the program was Huda Alkhatib.
“It’s… amazing, like seriously, this program saved my life," Alkhatib said.
Alkhatib was 20 years old and in the 10th grade at East High School when she told her counselor, "I can’t do this anymore."
“Whenever a student knew my age they [would] start laughing and told me you will not make it, you will not get your diploma because you are too old,“ Alkhatib said.
Those students knew Alkhatib’s age but not her story.
In 2013, as a result of the war in Syria, she and her family had to leave for Egypt, and three years later she would come to Kansas City through Jewish Family Services, with English as her second language.
When Alkhatib arrived, because she didn’t have any paperwork from her previous school, she was placed in the ninth grade.
“And when I came, to be honest, we asked do you need any papers from my home country they said no you’re good,” Alkhatib said.
But when she tried to resolve the issue about what grade she should technically be in, Alkhatib said paperwork was suddenly requested.
“My school is down now, I can’t get anything. My school dropped out, from bombing," she said.
It's that type of life issue that almost prevented Alkhatib from finishing high school.
Luckily an educator working to get a then new program off the ground recruited Alkhatib to be one of the first students.
“I don’t want to choke up but it’s a big deal,” McDonald said. “Being told well, 'you can’t come here anymore,' 'you’re too old,' 'you won’t make it to get your high school diploma,' and then she stayed with me and we got it. It’s a big deal.”
“Even if you have many problems in your life, no matter what, just go get your high school diploma, complete your education,” Alkhatib, who’s determined to help rebuild her home country, said. “Like me, from a war country, I wanted to give up, but I did not because probably I will go back one day to my country and help them and the one way I can get this is by my education.”
A new cohort of students now sit where Alkhatib once did, but she is never more than a few feet away to help guide them as an administrative assistant for the KCPS Middle College Program. She has one year left before getting her medical coding and billing certificate.
Students who are in similar situations don’t always find someone like Annette McDonald.
McDonald said she has administration to thank for supporting the program.
"Dr. Lee and Dr. Bedell, Dr. Lee is the president here at MCC and our superintendent — [they had] that kind of compassion to know that school isn’t always square, it doesn’t always have to happen in the same place it’s happened for 100 years and [were] willing to take a risk because this was a big risk," McDonald said.
MCC's Penn Valley campus not only provides the space to learn, but also helps students earn college credit while finishing high school.
The KCPS Middle College Program is a partnership between the MCC Penn Valley Campus, KCPS and the Full Employment Council, offering services that help prepare for the HiSET exam, post-secondary options, and a pathway to a two-year degree program at MCC and Career-Technical training and certification.
The next KCPS Middle College Program screening assessment program is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 12, and Wednesday, Oct. 13, from 7:45 a.m. to noon at the MCC - Penn Valley Campus, located in room 503 of the Campus Center.
A seat can be reserved by texting (816) 803-6356 or calling (816) 604-4019.
Since the program’s inception in 2018, 229 students have graduated.
The program has an 83% graduation rate.