Driving across Highway 410 is like driving across America. There’s a little bit of everything. The freeway crosses the beautiful White River, past forests and farm fields, through several small towns and suburbs.
This is Tonya Hammer’s daily drive.
The Graduation Alliance local advocate works with students in three school districts along the 410 in Western Washington, between the Cascade Mountains and the South Puget Sound. She hosts in-person “meet-ups” at local libraries, facilitates tests, and helps students overcome the social and economic obstacles that have previously prevented academic success.
There are easier jobs out there, she figures, but none she can imagine that would be more rewarding.
“These kids, they’re just kids,” she said. “A lot of them get a bad rap, but if you believe in them, if you tell them what you expect, if you show them you’ll be there for them, it’s amazing. They can turn it around.”
Tonya knows that part of her job is to offer “tough love.” But early into her four years as a local advocate, she learned something.
“They make mistakes,” she said. “Of course they do. They’re human and humans make mistakes. But in those moments, I try to always find the best in them, and to encourage them. I find something to be proud of and I tell them, ‘I am proud of you.’”
A lot of these students don’t hear those words very often, if at all, Tonya said.
And often, Tonya said, they don’t have someone in their educational lives who isn’t “on the clock.”
“But a lot of our students, you know, they work full time,” she said. “They’ve got a lot going on in their lives, and they’re pretty surprised to find someone who says ‘I’m here for you when you need me.’”
So while much of Tonya’s work is indeed done when she’s on the road, meeting with students in person, a lot of it is done on the phone.
“I’ve got to tell you, I’ve had some of my best conversations with them late at night,” she said. “When they call, they always say ‘I’m sorry it’s so late,’ and I say ‘it’s not late at all.’”
Because, she said, that’s when they need her. And so she’ll be there.
Graduation Alliance partners with school districts, workforce agencies and various organizations to help create alternative paths for individuals who need flexibility and support to earn a diploma. To learn more about Graduation Alliance’s services, simply click here.