“He’s the king of Woodrow Wilson High School,” says counselor Alison Glover of senior Larvester Horton. “Known to one and all as ‘Pops,’ he walks down the hall and is greeted by everyone who sees him which is sometimes difficult since he’s only two-and-a-half feet tall.”
Horton is one of six graduating Woodrow seniors we’re featuring this month, seniors singled out by the school’s teacher and counselors as good examples of hardships overcome, talents developed and academics achieved.
Of Horton, Glover says the physical ailments associated with being a dwarf haven’t kept the student “from pursuing his first love – music.”
Given that Woodrow is known for its spring musicals, executed with the precision and showmanship of Broadway’s best, Horton’s talents were in special harmony, so to speak, with his neighborhood school.
“42nd Street was my favorite,” Horton says. “It was hard work, but it was just wonderful. I liked it better that all the others.”
“I remember the first time I saw him,” Glover says. “He was a member of the middle school’s elite show choir. He sang, he danced – he was the central performer for many of the numbers. Pops is so self-assured and loved by everyone that nobody thinks of him ‘as that kid with all the problems.’ He is just Pops, and he performs.” Horton has lived in our neighborhood throughout his life – elementary at Lipscomb, middle school at Long, and now these last four years at Woodrow before going on, he hopes, to major in music at college. He dreams of one day being a recording artist like Michael Jackson, but for now will settle for surviving the academic demands of graduating.
“I never thought it would be easy, but this senior year was really hard,” he laughs.
Woodrow boasts two seniors who are National Merit finalists this year. At press time, student council president Andrew Rogers was ranked first in his senior class. The outstanding Woodrow scholar has also been active in varsity baseball, varsity swimming, mock trial, the Variations show choir, one=act play, the musical, Key Club and the National Honor Society.
“Woodrow is a great school for me because you don’t have to specialize in something in order to excel,” Roger says. “You’re allowed to spread out your interests and your talents over many areas, and nobody requires you to focus on one specific area. And I really haven’t found that thing that’s number one in my life yet, so it’s good for me.”
Although Rogers says he “could play baseball until my hands fall off,” he doesn’t see his sports career extending beyond high school. And, he says, this is probably the end of my singing career, too.
“Both my parents are lawyers, and I’m pretty good at mock trial, but I don’t know if I’ll do that,” he says. “I really like English, actually, and writing – possibly journalism. I haven’t started that here because I think my head would explode right now if I tried to cram one more thing in.”
Rogers, who hopes to attend Duke or Stanford, attributes his success in school to the educators who have worked with him.
“The teachers here are just incredible. If you have a desire to learn and the energy to pursue your academic career, they’ll do anything to help you out.”
One of Rogers’ favorites, Spanish teacher Betty Panett, says of her student: “Andrew Rogers is a true gentleman, and a true scholar.
Treasurer of the student council and a member of the National Honor Society, Stephen Nagler is Woodrow’s other National Merit Finalist.
“I was really excited when I got the news,” Nagler says. “I’ve gotten into OU and UT, but I won’t know about the others until later. Boston College is my first choice.”
Ranked sixth in his class, Nagler says he has been challenged his last year at Woodrow with five advanced placement classes, participation in the Variations show choir and the Woodrow musical – and his favorite pastime, varsity baseball.
“A creative and aggressive thinker who always puts his personal stamp on all his work,” says U.S. history teacher Peter Evett. “Stephen is outstanding.”
Of his soon-to-be alma mater, Nagler says: “I like it a lot. The teachers are great; I’ve got a lot more friends…it’s been a great experience. Some of my friends go to private schools, and it seems like they never have as much to say about school as I do. Just everything about Woodrow together – it’s hard to pick out one moment. Making the baseball team, making the show choir. It’s all been great.
Not every student hits a high note right away in school. Part of Woodrow’s strength as a first – rate urban learning environment is its recognition that some outstanding students stumble, and that a second chance may make all the difference.
A program called Reconnection is “a school within a school,” says Woodrow counselor Marcella Duque. “It’s designed to help older students who, because of different situations in their lives, are behind. They can catch up even though they already have adult obligations in their lives – marriage, children, jobs. We give them the opportunity to accelerate their credits by computer on either a morning or afternoon shift, and to stay longer if they need to.”
Before starting in the high school seemed all too serious to Woodrow senior Fabiola Rodriguez, so she dropped out for a year.
“I got married and had a baby…and I got depressed,” she says. “I didn’t think I could do it (school). It was all too much overwhelming.”
Then life without an education started to look even more serious.
“I started thinking about my baby. I don’t want him to suffer, and I don’t want to be working minimum wage jobs forever.
“So one day I just got up and came over here and talked to Mrs. Cobelle.
Cobelle says: “When Fabiola came back to Woodrow last year, she entered the Reconnection Program very unsure of her ability, very skeptical of her chance to succeed, and very unsure of what the future held for her and her family. But she has excelled in her academics, is determined and sure of finishing high school, and seriously contemplating further education to provide for her child.”
Rodriguez says Cobelle has “helped me out with everything. I don’t know… she’s a wonderful person. Just happy and such a good attitude – a good vibe. She gave me confidence.”
In addition to being a good mother to Christopher Joseph, Rodriguez hopes to be an English teacher one day in the near future – though the journey so far hasn’t been easy.
“I go to school all day and then work full-time,” Rodriguez says. “I don’t get home until midnight. But all the time and effort and hard work – I’m pretty sure it’s all going to pay off.”
Cobelle concurs: “Fabiola is a young lady with determination, a good foundation, and a vision for her future.”
To other young people who find themselves at the same crossroads, Rodriguez says: “Even if you get to a point where you want to give up, keep going. In 40 or 50 years, you’ll be able to look back and say ‘Hey, I did all those things’ instead of “Oh well, I dropped out.’
“Just don’t give up.”
Finding What Works
Mia Curtis seems like a lot of the carefree kids roaming up and down the halls – a pretty, energetic bright-eyed girl who bubbles about being on the dance team and going to Young Life meetings. But due to family circumstances, at 18 she is already living on her own and supporting herself.
“I was so depressed when I moved here,” Curtis admits. “But many people here have been welcoming to me.”
The work program was a lifeline for Curtis.
“You can’t let anything stop you from doing what you need to do – I’ve learned that the hard way. Quitting won’t get you anywhere.”
As for life after Woodrow, Curtis says that she has dreamed of being a doctor since she was 9 years old and is determined to be pre-med in college. Big dreams included SMU and Johns Hopkins, but realistically she knows the money just isn’t there yet. So she plans to start out at a college such as Richland and take it from there.
“Mia impressed me from our first meeting by the way she makes light of all her obstacles,” says Woodrow counselor A. Mathis. “I think this is what keeps her going.
“We could all learn a little something about life from Mia.” *
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