jrodriquexwebextra Photo: Michele Aweeky

When Jonathan Rodriguez was 16 years old he ran the streets and sold drugs.

“I wasn’t thinking about school [at first],” admits Rodriguez, who now attends the Congreso de Latinos Unidos E3 Center on Girard Avenue.
 
Rodriguez first dropped out in sixth grade because he felt the classes were too challenging. But three years later, he decided to go back.
 
“I told myself, I’m not getting younger so I gotta do something.”
 
Upon his return to school, Rodriguez was automatically enrolled as a ninth grader at his neighborhood school, Edison Fareira High. But since he missed all of middle school, he was already behind on the first day.
 
“I was in the classroom with 25 people and I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
 
Rodriguez wandered the halls until he was brought to the dean’s office for leaving class.
 
“She told me, it’s the first day of school, why you already cutting?”
 
Rodriguez explained to the dean that he couldn’t keep up with the high school level work, but she flatly told him to do what the teachers said, and that made Rodriguez mad.
 
That day, Rodriguez was kicked out of Edison for slapping the dean in the face. She later pressed charges against him for the assault, and Rodriguez spent a year in jail. After being released, he “ran the streets” causing trouble.
 
It wasn’t until his probation officer gave him an ultimatum that Rodriguez made a move toward his education. The edict was: go to school, get a job or go back to jail.
 
“So I was like, okay, I’ll go to school, but I was embarrassed [to go back because I thought] how am I going to tell people that I don’t know how to read and write? I don’t know if they’re going to laugh at me or tell me I don’t belong here.”
 
But when Rodriguez learned the E3 center does one-on-one sessions for students who are behind, he decided it was the right place for him.
 
“I can come to school every day and be proud of what I’ve got to say.”
 
Today, Rodriguez is considering college and a career in construction. He said his dream was always to finish school, and that he just got off track.
 
He credits his girlfriend and teachers at the E3 Center for his newfound motivation.
 
“[My girlfriend] says, ‘just do your dream. I’m always going to be there for you.’ And I thank her and I thank everybody in this building who tells me ‘You’re going to be somebody,’” he said.

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