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Teachers surprise at-risk students with graduation celebration

The Elevate Phoenix mentorship program, which helps at-risk teens stay in school, surprised its students for graduation this week.

PHOENIX — Seniors from Cesar Chavez High School would have lined up this week to graduate at the Arizona Veterans  Memorial Coliseum, but those celebrations have changed.

Instead, the graduations are coming to the students including students from the Elevate Phoenix program – a program designed to help at-risk teens stay in school.  

“It’s difficult because I didn’t know who to go to or who to talk to," Camille Diaz said. 

Diaz said she was bullied and going to school was a real struggle because of something that nearly cost her her life. She was an innocent victim of a drive-by shooting.  

“I was shot when I was 6 years old and I would get made fun of a lot because of the scar,” she said. 

But because of the Elevate Phoenix mentorship program, she now aspires to help other at-risk youth.  

"I want them to feel comfortable enough to speak to me and let them know that it is OK to be different and it’s OK to be yourself," she said. 

The program mentors high school students, who in turn mentor elementary students. They go through trials, and there’s not a story in our classroom that will not bring you to tears, said development director Jazmine Hall.  

Senior Daizsha Gutierez has plans to become a nurse and starts her online classes next week. Elevate Phoenix is giving Daizsha and each student a laptop and all the resources they need to deliver long-term life relationships after graduation.   

"When we say we're in it for the long haul, we have students from 10 years ago still engaged with us," said Jazmine Hall. 

“They keep you focused and stuff and supported by people who love you all the time," Daizsha added. 

They say life lessons can’t be taught in a classroom, you have to experience it. That's not so for Camille and Daizsha, where the students have become the teacher. 

Daizsha says just teaching others about what you learned helps continue the process of being connected with others. 

You can learn more about the program by going to elevatephoenix.org.

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