YAKIMA, Wash. — Franklin Middle School was close to giving up on Stephanie Guerrero. Her parents were running out of ways to contain the “troublemaker,” who would sneak out with her friends, disregard her grades, start fights and use drugs.
One final option for them: sending her to live with her grandparents in the Mexican state of Nayarit for eight months. There was a catch: They weren’t going to support her stay abroad so she had to find work and attend school while she was there.
Fast forward almost five years and it appears Guerrero’s parents knew what they were doing. Her grades are now A’s and B’s, she is taking classes at Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center and will enroll at Heritage University in the fall. Guerrero, 18, made big changes to her academic and personal life after the prolonged stay in Mexico, and it has turned out for the better as she will join the ranks of Davis High School graduates Wednesday.
“Just because stuff gets hard for you, don’t give up,” she said. “It’s not worth giving up what the future has in store for you.”
In the summer of 2009, Guerrero was sent to Mexico. It was one of the hardest things her parents ever had to do, she said. While she was in Mexico, she attended school in the morning and worked as a waitress during the evenings. It was a struggle, as her Spanish was not up to par compared to the Mexican natives, and she had to work 10-hour shifts in order to pay for everything.
The idea of working low-wage jobs did not appeal to Guerrero, either. She said after coming back in early 2010, she knew a complete personality makeover was needed. She re-enrolled in Franklin, although her principal was skeptical and reluctant to do it.
“I told him, ‘Give me a chance,’ ” she said. “ ‘If I get in a fight or do something wrong, then you can suspend me, kick me out.’ ”
Classmates and friends picked on her upon arrival, trying to reignite her old habits. But she ultimately chose to move on from her former friends.
Today, she looks forward to graduation and a new chapter in life. Guerrero said she wants to become a physical therapist one day; she took physical therapy classes at YV-Tech this school year.
She also became a good organizer. Assistant Principal Heather Hastie said her senior project — setting up an all-age-group car show — was impressive and showed off her skills in negotiating with vendors, dealers and sponsors.
When Hastie first heard Guerrero’s backstory, she was surprised. She said Guerrero has gone through a lot and will face more obstacles in her future, but she believes they will be mostly positive milestones.
“She just motivated herself to move (on) from there,” Hastie said. “She still has some struggles, but it just amazes me to see how far she has come. ... She has such a great story to tell.”