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Memphis Students Find Supportive Environment

  • Selene Monjarez was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis, which causes her to be visually impaired. However, her disability did not prevent her from succeeding academically.

    She recently graduated third in her class at Overton High School in Memphis and earned a full scholarship through the Questbridge National College Match Scholarship program to attend Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. 

    Monjarez’s parents immigrated from Mexico more than 25 years ago because neither of them could attend high school and wanted better opportunities for their children. They work in the restaurant industry, and, as a result, their family's economic situation fluctuated, with the COVID-19 pandemic making it particularly difficult. 

    However, Monjarez didn’t let financial hardships stop her from becoming a successful student, passing every Advanced Placement (AP) and Statewide Dual Credit Challenge exam, nor from consistently making the honor roll or principal's list. In addition, she participated in numerous clubs and organizations, including the National Honor Society, Student Government, and Special Olympics. 

    She credits her high school for preparing her for future success and offering classroom experiences that pushed her beyond what she thought were her limits. “They didn't make it less academically rigorous for me because I have a disability,” said Monjarez in a story that appeared on the Shelby-Memphis City Schools' website. “I was held to the same standards as my peers.”

    She is grateful to her vision teacher, Heather McDonough, whom Monjarez says has spent the last four years pushing her out of her comfort zone, but always with a sense of humor. “She has talked me into every AP and Statewide Dual Credit class I've taken and provided me with the support I needed to get through them,” said Monjarez. 

    She also believes her four years at Overton made her more confident academically and socially. 

    “Freshman Selene would never have even considered going out of state to college, let alone all the way to Connecticut,” said Monjarez. “I have higher goals for myself now than I ever have before.”

    Immigrant Student Find Success

    In 2008, when she was four years old, Neema Mariam and her family immigrated to the United States from Burundi in East Africa. Coming from a family who did not speak English, she struggled at times in the classroom. Determined to succeed, she set high academic goals for herself at Middle College High School, becoming a member of the National Honor Society. 

    Her hard work has paid off, and in the fall, she will attend Tennessee State University on a full scholarship to major in psychology or social work. 

    “Within the next ten years, I want to find myself working as a clinical psychologist,” said Mariam. “As an immigrant and survivor of the Rwandan conflict, I plan to help adolescents with their mental health.”

    The graduating senior knows firsthand the importance of caring for one’s mental health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her own mental health suffered because school was virtual, and she was working long hours at a fast food restaurant to help her family. Realizing the damaging toll it was taking on her, she quit the job and started a new routine of focusing on her academics and making herself a better student. By the end of last school year, her grade-point average had gone from 2.8 to 4.1. 

    Mariam found a supportive and caring environment at Middle College, where she was academically challenged and pushed beyond her perceived limitations. Though she never considered herself the type of student who would succeed in honors classes or dual credit classes, at Middle College she thrived. 

    “With help from Middle College, I am college-ready, and I feel excited about the future,” said Mariam, “even though the road will surely have hills to climb.”