Only a few months into her freshman year, Alexandrea Barajas was a high school dropout. Barajas was a promising student, but her life was in flux as she endured a childhood marked by a turbulent relationship with her parents, frequent moves to different homes and an unending concern for her younger brother and sister’s well-being. Then her charter school principal intervened, issuing a simple challenge: break the cycle. Find out how a south Phoenix charter school helped Alexandrea overcome life’s obstacles to forge her own legacy.
Here is her story.
BREAK THE CYCLE
Only a few months into her freshman year, Alexandrea Barajas was a high school dropout.
Barajas was a promising student, but her life was in flux as she endured a childhood marked by a turbulent relationship with her parents, frequent moves to different homes and an unending concern for her younger brother and sister’s well-being.
During her freshman year, Barajas temporarily moved from south Phoenix to Tolleson, but without a solid living situation and adequate transportation to school, she dropped out.
Just a few weeks later, a relative offered their home to Barajas, and she jumped at the chance to re-enroll in her small, south Phoenix charter school, South Pointe High School.
Once she returned to South Pointe, her principal, Larry McGill knew it was time to intervene. So he issued a simple challenge to her: break the cycle.
To McGill, Barajas’ story was similar to numerous students he encountered during his tenure as leader of the south Phoenix high school, an alternative charter school with 405 students. She was brimming with talent but had to climb numerous obstacles to reach her potential.
So McGill, who keeps binders filled with college acceptance letters for students who overcame similar obstacles, knew this was a crucial time to help Barajas reach her goals.
“We talk a lot about breaking cycles,” said McGill, who has served as the school’s leader since its opening in 2003. “I told Alex she needs to be successful.”
At that point, Barajas decided to forge her own legacy instead of repeating her parents’ mistakes, choosing to dedicate her focus to academics, while setting an example for her younger siblings.
Three years later, it’s paid off handsomely.
Barajas, 17, graduated from South Pointe with 95 of her fellow seniors earlier this month and earned the President’s Tuition Scholarship to attend Northern Arizona University in the fall. The four-year scholarship is available each year to academically successful incoming freshman.
Barajas’ accomplishments are a far cry from childhood, when she was shuttled between different relatives’ homes and was even in foster care while her parents both battled drug addictions and served jail sentences.
“There were some days when I was like ‘I can’t do this, I’m going to give up,’ but then I was like, ‘you know what, I can do it’” said Barajas, who plans to major in Business at NAU.
Barajas has broken the cycle with resounding success. She is the first person in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. She now serves as an example for her two younger siblings and her parents, who are now sober and have turned away from their previous lives.
She currently lives with her mother in Glendale and her father, who she still maintains a relationship with, is in California helping one of her older sisters. Meanwhile, Barajas’ past struggles have taught her to push toward the promises of the future.
“Don’t mourn the past. The longer you look back, the more it’s going to hold you back,” she said. “Break the cycle.”
About The Campaign
With negative headlines splashed across news outlets, the hard work of our K-12 teachers and leaders is sometimes overshadowed and forgotten. We want to change that. Our Charters Changing Lives campaign is a way to share the stories that are often overlooked: to recognize the efforts of our students, teachers, leaders and community members who dedicate their lives to ensuring student success. With 556 public charter schools serving over 170,000 student, charters play an integral role in shaping the lives of Arizona’s youth. We plan to share how Arizona’s charter schools are changing lives every day.