“When I describe the NET now,” explains Angel Cummings, “I say it is a small family. The teachers are our aunts and uncles and all the other kids are our cousins.”

Angel is a graduate of the NET Charter High School, a New Orleans alternative school with sites in Gentilly and Central City. As an alternative school, the NET works differently than many high schools citywide.

“The classes are small,” Angel explains. “You can choose to have morning or evening classes, depending on your schedule, because some students work or have family obligations. You take the classes that you need to take, based on what credits you need, not what grade you are in.”

Some students enroll at the NET because its flexible format works best with their schedule. Some have not found other school models to be a good fit, or have been expelled from a previous school. Some want the hands-on approach and internship experiences the NET offers.

Each year, a number of NET students graduate in December. While some are in their fifth year of high school, some are slightly older than most students, or they have patched together credits from a number of schools. These are often students who have overcome significant academic and personal obstacles or followed a nontraditional path.

We spoke to Angel, who graduated in December of 2019, along with two other December NET graduates: Chrishana Tate ‘20, and Robert Muse ‘20. They told us about their high school experiences, graduation, and the road ahead.

Robert chose the NET because he felt it was an efficient way to meet his goal of joining the military and then going to college.

“I was looking for something that was more in my range of my life choices…accelerating what I want to get into in life. The NET would get me ready for college…and it was going to get me out faster.”

Angel came to the NET after being told by her prior school that she was too far behind in credits to graduate on time. Her principal told her she would never graduate and should look to get her GED. But Angel was determined to get her high school diploma. When her mother found out about the NET, and that it could help students make up credits on their own time, they realized it was a perfect fit.

“The NET is for anybody that says, ‘I’m looking for a change, I want to do better,’” says Angel. “It was kind of overwhelming at first, but I was happy to be in school. I had gotten another chance and I was not going to take it for granted.”

She didn’t, and neither did Chrishana or Robert. And after a lot of effort, focus, and determination, each student was ready to graduate in December – for Angel in 2019, and for Chrishana and Robert, last year.

“The day we had been waiting on”

Because of the pandemic, Chrishana and Robert graduated in small ceremonies at a local church, with just a few members of their household present.

Robert was joined by his father, his step-mother, and his sister.

“To be up there, it felt like something that wasn’t real,” he said.

Chrishana’s mother and two of her aunts joined her.

“The music started playing — it was a graduation song — and I was so nervous that I was speed walking, I didn’t even notice,” Chrishana said. “My mom and my two aunties were screaming at the top of their lungs how proud they were. They saw I was speed walking and my auntie screamed, ‘slow down!’”

“They honored me with a plaque with my name on it for things like independence, generosity, mastery. And I won a $1,000 scholarship. I also received my diploma, and three or four  handwritten congratulation notes from all my teachers…I heard my mom sniffling, and I said ‘don’t cry.’ I tried not to cry because the mask I was wearing was fogging my glasses, and if I was to cry, I wouldn’t be able to see and I would be tripping and falling.”

Chrishana’s mother was incredibly moved.

“I am extremely proud,” says Chrishana’s mother. “She has broken generations of curses, because my mother, my grandmother, and my great-great grandmother…none of us graduated. She not only graduated, but she graduated with a high GPA and she has overcome every and any challenge.”

When Angel graduated last year, her family was incredibly proud, too.

“Graduation day from the NET was the day we had been waiting on; it was almost like a hunger and a thirst,” said Angel’s mother, Tammy Cummings.

“Angel and I always played the song, “Thank God I Made It,” and I put it on shirts. She didn’t expect that; I surprised her. We made her graduation hat ourselves. It said “longer journey but God’s timing is forever perfect” and “2019” in shiny letters. The bottom was covered in gold stars. We were ecstatic. My husband and I were really excited, and I kept telling myself, ‘Our baby is graduating!’ And she graduated with honors. I don’t think anything tops that feeling.’”

Angel won the same award last year that Chrishana won this year–the NET Academic Leadership Award, or the NALA.

“I think about all the work I put in, from my old principal telling me ‘you’re not going to graduate,’ to going to the NET and actually graduating, earning the NALA…At the NET, I set my goals and I put in the work–and I still had fun,” Angel said.

Internships and the path forward

The post-graduation path of all three young people has been shaped by their experiences at the NET. In particular, the NET’s internships have guided their professional ambitions. NET students hold internships throughout their time on campus, and receive class credit for it. Some internships are even paid.

“The internships I did really pushed me,” Robert explained. He interned at GroundWorks, an environmental nonprofit, Upbeat Academy, a music education program, and Operation Spark, which prepares young adults for careers in software development.

“They really gave me an understanding of the careers that I thought of. GroundWorks actually showed me the different ways we can preserve our environment, the people themselves and the community. Upbeat Academy is a musical internship, and we learned beat-making, songwriting, and cooperation. Operation Spark is a step in the direction of what I want to do with my life.”

For Robert, that’s computer game development.

“Right now, my plan is to go to the military, serve a four-year term and directly after that go to college for game design. I plan on owning my own business for game development, or joining a big name game development company and doing my career from there.”

Chrishana, too, was changed by her internships.

“I had never heard of an internship a day in my life until I went to the NET…then I did multiple internships.”

Chrishana’s first internship was at GrowDat, a farm in the middle of City Park.

“You get to learn a lot of things besides growing. At that point, I didn’t know what a W2 was, and they showed me what it was. They showed us how to do taxes, time management skills…how to use a credit card directly or how to manage credit. Not only were they teaching us how to do outside work and growing and planting, it was teaching us basic life lessons.”

Angel is currently working at the NET, supporting the students of NET staff that are learning virtually. This interest was sparked by Angel’s mother’s transportation and childcare business. She got the chance to explore that interest while at the NET through an internship at the NE(s)T, the NET’s daycare for children of students and teachers.

Angel is also taking her own classes — prerequisites at Delgado Community College so she can begin their veterinary technician program in the summer. This interest, too, was nurtured through a NET internship.

“I had an internship with the Louisiana Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (LASPCA). We did a project, which was making toys for the dogs. We invented a dog bottle-spinner for them to play with. We had to build everything ourselves…Then we made slides about the bottle spinners and presented them in front of the LASPCA board. We tested the toys with the dogs and they liked it. The LASPCA wanted us to make more. It was an awesome experience.”

Eventually, Angel plans to go to school to be a veterinarian.

“I would really love to have my own vet clinic, with quality service. It would be everything I want to see in a vet clinic. First, I would make sure the people that are working for me have a love for what they are doing…we would treat the customers with respect. We would love to see the animals coming through the door. I want it to be a fun place for animals and their families. You come here and you feel relaxed. I would love a clinic like that.”

Chrishana is still determining her exact next steps, but her internships and class time at the NET have opened up a dream of being an educator herself.

“A lot of people brought to my attention that I have teaching abilities. I didn’t notice it at the time, but I went up to the board in Algebra class and showed every step of the problem, and I got all of it right. I can definitely see myself teaching in the future.”

At NSNO, we hope she does. Our city will be lucky to have her in its classrooms — and Angel in her veterinary office, and Robert serving in the military, then running his business – in the years to come.

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