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As told by Juan Silva, former Safe School and ALOP student, current student advocate

Read Part 1 of Juan’s story here.

“After attending the West40 Safe School and being a part of the ALOP program, I had learned a new mindset. I had started to get back on track. But I was young, and it just got to be too much for me. Right before the holiday break of my junior year of high school, I decided to drop out.

I got a job at a factory. I thought, ‘this will be much better than school.’ But they put me on the night shift, and it didn’t take me too long before I realized that was not what I wanted to do with my life. So I went back to school.

Back at school, though, I felt stuck. Even though my age meant that I should be a junior, I was still considered a freshman because I had earned so few high school credits. I was in classes with people a few years younger than me, with everyone looking at me wondering why I was there.

The West40 advocates helped create a ‘credit recovery’ program for me and I started working my way through it. In my fifth year of high school, which was now my senior year, I took an honors sociology class. It was all these honors students and then me wearing this big hoodie. But pretty quickly I was able to prove to them that I belonged in the class. We had a mock debate and people’s jaws dropped because I could really hold my own. Eventually I earned enough credits to get my diploma. And the high school social worker told me I was ready to leave the nest.

And so I graduated. I had been through so much. I had been expelled. Suspended more times than I can count. I was arrested eight times and went to the Cook County Jail. But there I was with a diploma in my hand.

I went to college and got a fresh start. At Triton College, I started studying psychology. I was an All-American in Track & Field. And I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in social work.

For a while, I worked at JP Morgan Chase in Chicago. But I felt West40 calling me back. Now I’m a student advocate, helping kids who are just like I was, people who are going through the same challenges.

What I would tell everyone is that kids don’t act out for no reason. They act out because they don’t have any support. They don’t have people who are there for them. That’s why West40 is so important. We become that safety net for students who don’t have anyone fighting for them. Look at my journey and you can see what’s possible.”


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