KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Ny’shawn Scott was walking the halls of Kalamazoo Central High School in May, feeling lost after the other seniors had already graduated.

He was three credits short of a diploma and didn’t know where to go for help, so he planned to turn to Phoenix, the alternative high school in Kalamazoo, to get his GED.

Things started to go downhill his freshman year, which was the year COVID-19 first derailed schooling. His mom had to leave town to go to nursing school and his grandmother died.

“I live with my dad and I have a great relationship with him, but I kind of miss the family structure and I miss my granny, a lot,” Scott said.

What he didn’t realize was that support was available to him in the same hallways where he was feeling lost.

Kalamazoo Central Principal Valeria Boggan started the African American Males Program in 2020 after realizing how many students in that demographic graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools drop out. Out of more than 140 male Black students in the 2022 class, only about half graduated. It has been a consistent problem in the district. For female Black students in the same class, the graduation rate was closer to 70%. Boggan knew something needed to be done, so she started a program that focuses specifically on those male Black students.

DeShaun Cornelius, or Mr. C, is one of the teachers involved in the program. He said he didn’t see many Black men teaching when he was a student and he wanted to make a difference for the next generation.

“They don’t realize that we can be a resource or a tool to help them because when we’re younger, even for me, you’re growing up with this veil to be taught to be tough,” Cornelius said. “I think for Ny’shawn, I’ve seen him grow from last year to this year … utilizing those tools and then he can say, ‘OK, who else is here for me?’ There are other teachers here for him, too. It’s just because you’ve never been shown or taught ‘I can ask for help,’ and that’s this program here.”

Cornelius works with other program coordinators to identify students, like Scott, who have what it takes to do well but need guidance. They create a graduation plan tailored to each student’s unique situation, which included credit recovery and summer school in Scott’s case. The coordinators also bring in outside speakers to show the young men what they can be if they try.

Scott is now on track to graduate, armed with new knowledge about himself.

“I learned I can do a lot of things that I didn’t think I possibly could do,” Scott said. “I learned that I’m actually a hard worker and as long as I work, I can do a lot of stuff.”

That attitude has been supported by Cornelius and the other program organizers.

“(Scott’s) goal — and I smiled so hard when he told me — he said, ‘Mr. C. I’m going to get a 4.0,'” Cornelius recalled. “I said, ‘I know.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You know?’ I said, ‘I’ve seen the progress in you.'”

Before his grandmother passed away, she told Scott she dreamed of watching him walk across the stage to accept his diploma. He knows she’ll be watching as he makes that walk in the spring and continues to work hard long after graduation.

“It might make me cry, but it’s going to be tears of joy to know she’s happy that I did it,” Scott said. “I told her I was going to do it.”