INSIDE OUR SCHOOLS
Adrian Romero showed perseverance to graduate from high school, overcoming a broken leg, cancer, COVID, and the loss of a lung!
By Scott Phelps
My colleague at CIS Academy, Phil Quaranta, connected me with 2021 CIS graduate Adrian Romero to hear this young man’s amazing story of perseverance. Adrian came in for an interview. He attended Jackson Elementary, then Eliot, then Pasadena HS (PHS) before enrolling in CIS.
9th Grade: A Broken Leg Leads to Him Being Behind
Adrian started 9th grade at PHS in the fall of 2017. He said “It started off normal. I was in the band, and I played football. During the fall semester I broke my leg playing football in a game two days after my birthday.” Adrian had a full leg cast and a wheelchair; it was hard to get around. He started online school. He came back to HS three months into the second semester. His online grades weren’t good although he passed most of them. He failed two classes that spring. He was trying to catch up.
10th Grade: Getting Leukemia and Losing a Lung
After summer football practice, he was halfway through the fall football season when he was diagnosed with leukemia, on Nov. 11, 2018. He had been pale, short of breath, and had passed out a couple times just walking. He went to the doctor. “I had a hemoglobin level of 8; the average is 15.” He went every day for 3 months for chemo to Children’s Hospital of LA. He didn’t do any school and fell more behind. After the chemo, he got a lung infection from his reduced immune system. “I ended up having a lung resection. They took out my left lung.” He was assigned a homeschool teacher. The teacher came 3 times a week to his home to sit with him for an hour, assign him work on the Acellus online system. If he needed help, he would teach him. He kept doing that his sophomore year.
11th Grade: Surviving the Switch to Online Learning and Being Hospitalized for COVID
He came back to PHS his junior year, the fall of 2019. “I was tired physically and mentally, and I was so far behind that I felt there was no point. So I was absent the whole first semester.” In the second semester he tried coming back but the pandemic started and the schools went to online learning. “I couldn’t get used to doing online learning. Zoom calls. I had too much social anxiety from not talking to anyone for so long. I decided not to do that, so I would skip the zoom class. I also got COVID twice. The first time I was in the hospital for a week on a respirator, and I had pneumonia. I was still doing online classes from my hospital bed. I just kept working, but I was considering dropping out of high school.”
12th Grade: Motivation to Graduate
For his senior year, Adrian enrolled at CIS, Pasadena’s Center for Independent Study. Staff told him he would be doing online classes, and he would have a mentor teacher (Mr. Q.), but he probably wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. “I was behind by about 40 credits. I was kind of used to it. CIS is more independent. It was a lot easier than the zoom meetings. I got motivated; I didn’t want to be a high school dropout.” His parents didn’t graduate. The only one who graduated in his family of 8 (two parents, grandma and five kids) was his older sister. She graduated in 2020.
This motivated him to try to graduate. So he isolated himself and focused on just school work. “I would wake up at 7 am, start classes—Math, English, History, Chemistry. Work until 5 pm. Did that four days a week. Kept that until I turned 17 in October of 2020. I got a job. I was borderline obese, weighing 375 lbs. Decided to try to get healthier. Would work out daily, then do classes, then go to work. It was exhausting trying to catch up, but I kept telling myself I had to graduate. I would shut everything out and just work. Would skip eating, barely take breaks. Don’t know if that was the best, it was cramming and feels like I have forgotten most of it by now.” It was like that the whole first semester and until May of his senior year, right before graduation. “I didn’t believe I had caught up. Mr. Q. told me I had caught up, but I hadn’t felt the learning even though I did the work. It was something I had done and then forgotten about.” Adrian ended up graduating on time; he is grateful for that. But if it meant he would remember more, he would have stayed another year. Even though he got almost all A’s.
Moving on to PCC: Taking a Break to Come Back Stronger
Adrian started at PCC two months after he graduated from high school. ‘I didn’t give myself time to relax. I took 6 classes that semester. Was too much like work.” It affected him, and he began to dislike school. It was hard for him to talk to people; he couldn’t talk to anyone except a couple friends. PCC had started trying to go back in person, but he didn’t feel comfortable. “I dropped all of my classes that first semester; I took a gap year. I started working on my social skills and working for money. I was walking; I didn’t have a car. Ended up getting a car. Now I feel ready to go back to school. But it’s like I’m starting over again since I don’t remember a lot since high school. I feel like I can catch up.”
He re-enrolled at PCC in January of 2023 and has 3 general education classes. “They are going well. It’s a lot easier to learn in person after I got used to being around others, after working on my social skills. I am about to take my finals. I go to school in the mornings, then I work from late afternoon until evening. I find the time to do my homework. I also found the time to start working out again. I wake up at 5 am to go to the gym, then go to school after. I have dropped 175 lbs., down to 200 lbs. I still have a lot ahead of me, but I feel like I am ready for it this time.” He finished his cancer treatment this year. After the three months of daily chemo, it had been once a week, then once a month Eventually the treatments got less and now he is done. He is cancer free! “I get exhausted easily, and it is harder to work out. I have an inhaler, but I am healthier than I was.”
His Challenges Helped Him Find His Calling
Adrian says, “Next semester I will start taking requirements to start nursing school. I got interested in that from being in the hospital a lot. It made me see how much I like to help people, and the nurses were the ones I talked to the most and helped me the most. It made me realize that’s what I want to do.”
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