More than 100 young people working to get their GEDs have passed through the doors of the Next Generation Community Center (NGC) in the Bronx, and while their journeys have been different, one person in their paths has remained consistent – Angel Romero.
Angel, the program manager for NGC’s High School Equivalency program, began his career at Children’s Aid in 2011. In March 2019, he presided over a graduation marking his 102nd graduate.
Though he has helped many people graduate in his 35-year teaching career, he said the students at NGC are special to him.
“These particular students have a special meaning to me because I believe that all they needed was an opportunity and a shining light to show them the way,” he said. “If not, they might have been lost along the journey.”
Students who come to NGC for this program face an array of challenges – some have been in the foster care system, have criminal records, struggled with substance abuse issues, or speak English as a second language.
But Angel does not let these obstacles get in the way of a student’s success.
“I believe that everybody has the potential to learn,” he said. “We try to enhance whatever positive qualities a person has and try to work on that and be open.”
Ralph Herrera, who was one of five graduates in a ceremony on March 12, said he had tried several GED programs before he landed at NGC. He was looking for a job and instead, met Angel and decided to take another shot at passing the exam.
“This program worked because they really sat down with you and were there,” Ralph said. “They call you and let you know that you signed up so you should be here studying for the test. They were the one to let me know that it’s not going to be easy, but they’re there to help me.”
Now that Ralph has his GED, he has applied to several colleges in the area. According to Angel, many of the graduates go on to enter two- and four-year colleges.
The reason why this program is so successful, Angel said, is because he can relate to the students and has a dedicated teaching staff.
“I went through similar trials and tribulations,” he said. “As an inner-city youth who grew up in the 60s and 70s, coming from an immigrant family, it was a challenge. At that time, I didn’t have anybody to help me. They didn’t have the support systems that are in place now.”
Though Angel said he had to motivate himself, he has become a big motivator for young people in the Bronx. Bryttnie Mercedes, the valedictorian of her graduating class, said Angel’s reliability helped her get through the program.
“He’s been dedicated, he’s passionate, and what I really appreciate about Mr. Angel is his consistency,” she said. “I feel like I actually opened the door to something.”
While his students move on to college or start careers, many stay in touch with Angel and other staff members. Nayquan Bell, who graduated from the program in 2013, is now a district manager at Target and regularly visits NGC to recruit recent graduates.
Bell said he would not have been prepared to take the exam without Angel’s encouragement.
“Everything that I’m able to accomplish now, any milestones, I thank Angel because at the end of the day, I was walking around here with no education, ashamed of a GED, ashamed of walking into a community center to ask for help,” he said. “But it was Angel who gave me a different perspective on life.”
For Angel, the mentoring does not stop when students have walked across the graduation aisle. Sometimes, they come back to the Bronx community center after facing setbacks.
“That’s always been my policy in terms of the students, we’re always open,” he said. “I would not judge you, I’m just glad that you’re here. Let’s not talk about what happened in the past, let’s talk about today and moving forward.”