Devante Haywood, 18, spent the final months of his high school career at Chesapeake Science Point Charter School living in transitional housing for single men.
He and his mother became homeless shortly before the start of his junior year.
He lived with relatives for a while, but the first semester of this school year they were moving from motel to motel, he said, and sometimes they had to sleep in a car.
In January, they went into the Arundel House of Hope Winter Relief program, which provides nightly housing at participating churches. Through that group, he was offered a place in a transitional home for single men called The Fouse Center. The family split up, and he now has a much more stable place to stay.
There’s a good side to his struggle, Haywood said.
When things got rough, Haywood’s grades improved. He went from being a mediocre student to a student who got As and Bs — not only that, but he already has four courses from Anne Arundel Community College under his belt.
“Basically I just started to care more about school because I wanted something to distract my mind from what was going on at home,” he said.
In the coming weeks, Haywood will be among thousands of students who will graduate from Anne Arundel County public and private schools. Private school graduations started earlier this week, and public schools begin on Tuesday with Chesapeake Science Point and Severna Park High School.
Graduation is a milestone — the path to which can have twists, turns and roadblocks for some.
CSP Assistant Principal Darryl Gonzalez saw in improvement in Haywood’s grades as well.
“He decided that education might be the way out,” Gonzalez said.
Haywood has been accepted to several colleges, but he hopes to serve in the Coast Guard first to ensure benefits for himself and save money for school.
He knows where he wants to end up in life — he wants to study zoology and become the director of the San Diego Zoo.
“Or own my own big cat reservation where I take lost and abused exotic pets and bring them to a place for them to recoup, and eventually introduce them back into the wild where they're supposed to be,” he said.
He has always had an interest in and love for animals, he said.
Phoenix Academy student Marlon Richardson, 18, was diagnosed as a child with a mood disorder that ranges from bipolar to schizophrenia. He ran into trouble with police because of fights when he attended school in Prince George’s County, he said, and spent a year and two months getting treatment Sheppard Pratt Health System in Towson starting in 2014.
In May 2016, he moved to Odenton and that August he started school at the Phoenix Academy in Annapolis, where he said he found an environment where educators cared about him, helped him and looked at him the same as they would any other student.
The school provides teachers, psychologists, social workers and counselors who work closely with students.
“If they can learn to love me with my disability, I can learn to love myself with my disability,” Richardson said.
Richardson’s school counselor, India Somerville, said they were told he was a troubled student but she never saw any evidence of that at Phoenix. She called him a mentor to others at the school.
“He is an important part of our student body,” she said.
There were times he didn’t want to listen, Principal Merelene Clarke said, but soon he learned that they were on his side and wanted to help. They built a two-way relationship based on trust, she said.
Richardson will give a speech as class salutatorian, in which he references one such moment, recalling when a staff member told him to tie his shoes. He didn’t and then tripped and fell. A simple story that speaks volumes, he plans to say in his speech.
“That is what separates a child from an adult — the wisdom to listen to others,” his speech says.
Richardson is headed to Harrisburg College in the fall to study computer science. His graduation is Thursday.
Glen Burnie High School student Brianna Taylor, 18, was scheduled to graduate with the Class of 2017. However, struggling with depression, anxiety and family trouble, she dropped out her senior year. She would plan outfits for school, but then feel overwhelmed on the car ride and skip instead.
With the encouragement of her father, she enrolled in Evening High School last fall to gain the two credits she needed for graduation. She’ll be the speaker representing the Glen Burnie campus of Evening High School on her graduation day, June 7.
At first, she felt embarrassed to walk into school after dropping out.
“But, you know, I just kept fighting, like, I don't really care what they think at the end of the day,” she said. “I'm just here to get my education, get these credits and just graduate.”
The message she plans to share in her speech is to not give up when things get tough.
She hopes to join the Air Force, following in her father’s footsteps.