DOVER — Strawberry Crest High School senior Eduardo Cabrales missed receiving his Turnaround Student Award from the district during the recent awards ceremony in downtown Tampa.
After all, when he began his junior year with a paltry nine credits, the idea of graduation stood only as a distant possibility — even after he entered the IMPACT (Individually, Motivated Performance Assisted by Computer Technology) credit recovery program.
So an absence at the awards ceremony was typical for Cabrales.
But not in the way most people would suspect.
By his own admission, his ninth- and 10th-grade years were not what they should have been.
"I was hanging around with the wrong people," said Cabrales, 19. "I just didn't care."
His guidance counselor would see his eyes glaze over each time they spoke about his grades. It just wasn't important to him.
Most of those he hung around started dropping out of school or moving away, but it was the support and the encouragement of the people that have stayed constant in is life, his family and his teachers, who brought him around.
"My mom said that she was here for me, and no matter what she still loved me," Cabrales remembers, and said the same of his teachers.
And then there was his aunt, Beatrice Galvan, who always offered encouragement before she passed away from cancer in his sophomore year. His aunt's death prompted Cabrales to make some changes in his life. He stopped hanging around with the wrong crowd and refocused on more important things, like school and his family.
"I've seen his demeanor and attitude change, and he's gotten more confident," said Marlene Hill, Cabrales' guidance counselor.
Hill emphasized that Cabrales was behind, and he would have to make up classes in order to graduate on time.
"Most students just tune us out, but he really listened. As he finished one class, you could see his confidence building."
By the end of his junior year, Cabrales had made up all but two of his classes, one of which he completed during the summer and one during his senior year through Florida Virtual School. Yet the encouragement from the school staff was not the only factor in Cabrales' turnaround. It was also the sacrifices of his family, most significantly his mother, Luz.
On Saturday mornings, Cabrales attended school, but sometimes his mother also had to work at Florida Potato & Onion in Plant City, which was a problem because they shared a car. On those days, Luz Cabrales would find another way to get to work.
It was a car conflict that interfered with his acceptance of the Strawberry Crest's Turnaround Student Award. On the day of the awards, his mother was to drive him into Tampa to celebrate his accomplishment, but she was called into work.
"I was supposed to present Eduardo with his award, but he didn't show up," said John Kelly, IMPACT teacher and head football coach for the Chargers. "Fifteen minutes into the ceremony, he wasn't there so I called the school. About halfway through, one of our (assistant principals), Jasmine Tramel, called and told me they found him. He was in class the whole time."
Tramel rushed Cabrales to the ceremony. He arrived too late to receive his award, which Kelly accepted on his behalf, but in time for photos of all the winners at the end.
"He took it upon himself to be proactive," Kelly said. "It usually takes two years to climb out of the hole they've dug in these situations. He did it in almost one, and this year he has been more of a teacher's assistant in my class."
Cabrales, who would like to pursue a career as a building inspector, is now poised to participate in Strawberry Crest's graduation on June 4. He's proud of his accomplishment and grateful for the help he has had along the way to graduation. If he could pass on advice to younger students starting high school, he would tell them not to mess up as he did in the beginning.
"Just listen to your teachers and stay on track."
Shannan D. Powell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.