Students Graduate High School Through ‘Gateway to College’ Program

Eight students recently graduated from high school through Montgomery County Community College’s Gateway to College program. Pictured are (first row, from left) College President Dr. Karen A. Stout; Gateway Director Keima Sheriff; graduates Ne’Cole Casalena, Erika Knappenberger, Meghan Benson and Rachel Voltz; Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. Kathrine Swanson; (second row, from left) Resource Specialist Lori Davidson; graduates Justin Leamy, Carlas Rich and James Hanible; and Resource Specialist Esau Collins. Photo by Sandi Yanisko

Eight students recently graduated from high school through Montgomery County Community College’s Gateway to College program. Pictured are (first row, from left) College President Dr. Karen A. Stout; Gateway Director Keima Sheriff; graduates Ne’Cole Casalena, Erika Knappenberger, Meghan Benson and Rachel Voltz; Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. Kathrine Swanson; (second row, from left) Resource Specialist Lori Davidson; graduates Justin Leamy, Carlas Rich and James Hanible; and Resource Specialist Esau Collins. Photos by Sandi Yanisko

by Alana J. Mauger

Eight students from Montgomery County Community College’s Gateway to College Program earned their high school diplomas this spring after completing the requirements necessary to graduate from their respective school districts.

Gateway to College is a national network designed for young adults ages 16-21 who are at risk for not completing high school. One of only 43 Gateway to College programs in the country, Montgomery partners locally with 16 area school districts and the Montgomery County Workforce Investment Board (WIB) to help increase high school—and ultimately college—graduation rates.

Spring 2014 graduates include Meghan Benson, Wissahickon; Ne’Cole Casalena, Phoenixville; James Hanible, Pottsgrove; Erika Knappenberger, Souderton; Justin Leamy, Pottsgrove; Jose Ortiz Rivera, Hatboro-Horsham; Carlas Rich, Phoenixville; and Rachel Voltz, Upper Merion. All of the graduates plan to pursue post-secondary education, and at least six will attend Montgomery in the fall.

Ne’Cole Casalena, Phoenixville High School, was selected as valedictorian.

Ne’Cole Casalena, Phoenixville High School, was selected as valedictorian.

One of those graduates, Ne’Cole Casalena, Phoenixville High School, described her journey in rhyming lyrics, speaking as class valedictorian.

“And I want to thank everyone but me, cause without you, I don’t know where I would be. Where I am, as a person, they are life lessons, not a burden…If I could, I wouldn’t change a thing, cause out of 18 years, this was the best spring,” she recited.

In only its first year at Montgomery, the Gateway to College program has grown from 21 students in the fall to 52 this spring. At full capacity, the program will serve up to 150 students annually.

“My Gateway students are some of the most resilient and capable young people I have had the pleasure of supporting on their academic journey,” shared Keima Sheriff, who is MCCC’s Gateway to College program director. “Many are faced with incredibly difficult life circumstances, yet they consistently attend school, participate in a rigorous learning environment and meet the expectations of the program. My students prove that if given the opportunity to excel, they can and will rise to the occasion.”

Fifteen of Montgomery’s students were recognized as Gateway Achievers by the Gateway to College National Network. Students include: Jose Ortiz Rivera from Hatboro-Horsham; Gustavo Ascencion from Norristown; Ne’Cole Casalena and Laura Krueger from Phoenixville; Brianna Gagliardi, Marcus Gordon and Anthony Romano from Pottsgrove; James Hanible from Upper Merion; Christopher Anderson, Shane Bowman, Jelani Crosby and William Dobnak from Upper Moreland; Shaquilla Anderson from WIB; and Meghan Benson and Emahnie Holmes from Wissahickon.

Fifteen of Montgomery's students were recognized as Gateway Achievers by the Gateway to College National Network.

Fifteen of Montgomery’s students were recognized as Gateway Achievers by the Gateway to College National Network.

The College also recognized spring Gateway students for their achievements.

William Dobnak, Upper Moreland, and Laura Krueger, Phoenixville, were recognized as Foundation (first term) Students of the Semester. They also earned the highest GPA among the College’s Gateway students along with Jelani Crosby, Upper Moreland.

Marcus Gordon, Pottsgrove, and Rachel Voltz, Upper Merion, were recognized as Transitioned (second term) Students of the Semester.

Perfect Attendance went to Shane Bowman, Upper Moreland; Anthony Romano, Pottsgrove; and Thomas Rosa, of Plymouth Meeting. Rosa was also recognized as Most Courageous, along with Paige Trump, Pottsgrove. Romano was recognized for Change of Heart, along with Jose Ortiz Rivera, Hatboro-Horsham.

Brianna Gagliardi, Pottsgrove, and Julian Richardson, WIB, earned Most Improved, while Amber Keyes, Norristown, and Faith Owens, Pottsgrove, earned Rising Star awards.

Additional awards included Perseverance, given to Nicole Snyder, Upper Moreland, and Dejah McMillan, Pottsgrove; and Most Determined, given to Gustavo Ascencion, Norristown, and Keara Hyden, Phoenixville.

Students begin the Gateway to College program with a Foundation semester, during which they take classes in reading, writing, math, and college skills as part of small learning communities. After successfully completing the Foundation term, participants transition into one of the College’s academic programs, earning college credits while completing high school requirements. Throughout the program, students are advised and mentored by Gateway Resource Specialists Lori Davidson and Esau Collins. They also actively engage in college and community service.

Partnering school districts include Boyertown, Cheltenham, Daniel Boone, Hatboro-Horsham, Norristown, Perkiomen Valley, Phoenixville, Pottsgrove, Pottstown, Souderton, Spring Ford, Upper Dublin, Upper Merion, Upper Moreland, Upper Perkiomen, Wissahickon and the Montgomery County Workforce Investment Board.

Watch the full graduation and awards ceremony below! Video produced by Matt Porter

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