When Peninsula High School student Tacoda Anker walked across the stage to accept his diploma on Sunday, June 18, 2017 it marked more than the accomplishment of completing four years of high school. For this college-bound senior, it was the completion of a dream few thought possible as it underscored his journey from drug addiction and dropout to graduation — a true comeback story.
Anker credits Communities In Schools of Peninsula for helping him aspire to heights that he never imagined possible.
For most of his high school career, the 19-year-old believed that college was out of his reach. Anker spent years struggling with drug addiction and frequent absences, at one point completely dropping out of school.
After a stint of rehabilitation failed, a confrontation with his father ultimately convinced him to get clean and get back to school. It was then that he got plugged into Communities in Schools of Peninsula (CISP), an affiliate of the national organization, committed to empowering students to stay in school, graduate and pursue brighter futures.
Now, six years after his freshman year of high school, Anker has graduated and has been accepted into multiple colleges, including his first choice — Washington State University. Anker not only received the long-awaited acceptance letter, but also a personal congratulatory call from the university’s president — a rare experience.
Staff who had supported Anker gathered in the school’s office to watch him as he accepted the call. The moment is etched in his memory.
“They said they were really proud of me and have never seen a comeback story like this,” Anker said in a press statement. He recently learned that an anonymous donor would pay for his four years of college.
Anker believes his success story was made possible thanks to the support from the many caring adults at PHS who he said were willing to “do whatever it took” to help him overcome the challenges he faced at school — including CISP Site Coordinator Wendy Wojtanowicz.
She describes Ankers’s journey as a shining example of how schools and community-based organizations can work together to help students overcome barriers to learning.
“Tacoda has not only overcome adversity in his own life, but now gives back to others by mentoring his peers in the newly piloted ‘Why Try’ program at PHS,” Wojtanowicz said. “It is witnessing that full circle of giving back that is really inspiring.”
CISP Executive Director Colleen Speer believes that more stories like Anker’s are possible with the right intervention. She and her staff work with volunteers from all over the Gig Harbor and Peninsula area to mentor students in need of extra support, from elementary age to high school.
“When students graduate, everyone wins,” Speer said. “Nationally, 14.5 million kids under (the age of) 18 live in poverty. Without community support, they are more at risk for missing school, dropping out and failing to earn a high school diploma.
“By helping our most vulnerable students stay in school and succeed in life, we are building stronger, healthier and more economically stable communities where every person is capable of reaching his or her greatest potential,” Speer said.
Communities In Schools of Peninsula is a non-profit organization that serves more than 3,600 youth in the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula areas, providing reading and math mentoring programs, tutoring, and integrated student support services.
For information, go to CIS of Peninsula.
Story by Cathy Rich