Emotional support helps teen graduate with honors

Tivonia Gardner did not have an easy senior year.

Due to deaths of loved ones that led to frequent moves, she had little stability and no money to even think about college.

No one would blame Gardner for coasting through her senior year of high school so she could work. Instead, she graduated with honors and is college-bound.

Gardner credits Noy Thongkham, the Communities In Schools of Nevada site coordinator at Rancho High School, for getting her through it all and heading her on the right track for college and beyond.

The nonprofit has sites in 20 schools around the valley, and its mission is, “To surround students with a community of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.”

“We find the students we serve in a number of ways,” Thongkham said. “Some are recommended by a counselor or a teacher. Sometimes we’ll just be talking to students in the hall and we’ll identify someone who needs a little help.”

Gardner’s single mother died at an early age, and she moved in with her grandmother. When her grandmother fell ill, Gardner was bounced from relative to relative. This year, her grandmother died. Gardner considered her grandmother her mother. Grieving and facing instability in her home life, she was struggling in school.

“I saw how hurt Tivonia was and how painful it was for her,” Thongkham said. “She didn’t really have a place where she felt settled. Even with all that, she was keeping her grades up, she was helping take care of her aunt’s child and was active in three or four sports.”

Thongkham saw Gardner at least once a week and learned that she was an impressive person with a lot of potential, but because of her lack of resources, she couldn’t see the point of trying to get into college. She was considering joining the Army.

“I told her that wasn’t her only option, that she was someone with so much potential,” Thongkham said. “With the grades and the motivation she had, how could she not go to school?”

They began seeking scholarships and looking at which schools would be right for her. Things started to turn around for Gardner.

“Just having someone away from home to talk to and express how you feel was a big part of it for me,” Gardner said. “She’s been helping me figure out what I really want to do.”

Gardner eventually set her heart on Virginia State University, and Thongkham helped her draft her admission essays and apply for grants and funding for school. Thongkham is confident that Gardner will make it through college with success, despite adversity that she encountered in high school, and will then enter the Army as an officer and go into the medical field.

“No matter what I’ve been through, I’m able to grow through it,” Gardner said. “I’m able to accept my past and make my future better. You shouldn’t let your past tear you away from your future because there’s always something better.”

Gardner was accepted at Virginia State University and is set to begin classes in the fall.

For more information about Communities In Schools of Nevada, visit cisnevada.org.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.


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