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Croom High Community Helps Star Student Reach College

Croom High Community Helps Star Student Reach College

  • Student Voice |
  • May 8, 2019

Just a year ago, Croom High School senior Nyree Walden was on a very different path.

Navigating personal obstacles that led to a brief stint away from school, he was unsure whether or not he would be able to finish high school.


Today, not only is he preparing to graduate, he will do so as class valedictorian who recently committed to continuing his education as a college student at Hampton University.


“It feels like just months ago that my life changed completely and I was contemplating quitting and getting a GED,” Nyree said. “But I decided that was not the route I wanted to go.”


Determined to earn his diploma, Nyree transferred to Croom — a move that proved to be life changing thanks to a team of dedicated staff and educators who recognized his potential and stepped in to help on his journey toward self-actualization.


“It is not unusual to have a student come into our program with challenges, but it is unusual to have a student in our program come close to having a 3.0 GPA,” said Croom Principal William Henderson, noting the school’s focus on helping students who have fallen behind get caught up. “From my first interaction with Nyree it was clear he was on a college track and that nothing could deter him.”  


Darren Stephenson, a behavior specialist at Croom, helped convinced Nyree to dream bigger, encouraging him to attend the annual HBCU College Festival at Alfred Street Baptist Church.


Nyree took the advice, attended the festival and fell in love with Hampton University. Several staff at Croom not only encouraged him to apply — but vowed to support him along the way.


“At one point, he thought he wasn’t going to college,” said Arlene Stell, the school testing coordinator. Stell has served as a mentor to Nyree in the application process, assisting with the FAFSA, SAT and submitting school applications.


The hard work paid off: Nyree was accepted to four colleges, including his top choice Hampton.


Upon receiving the good news, the team at Croom came together to make it possible for Nyree to reach his goal.


Staff pitched in to cover the deposit for a summer program and three teachers dedicated a weekend to accompany him on a campus visit: science teacher Lafiya Tunstall, math teacher Paulette Bland Gaines and library media specialist Rhonda Johnson, a Hampton alumna with long family history of graduates from the school.

“Doors opened during that visit,” Johnson recalls. “He was prepared and well-received by everyone he spoke to. The Dean of Admissions thanked us for sending them such a wonderful young man.”


At Hampton, Nyree will study business administration and says he hopes to someday establish a nonprofit to help those less fortunate — especially youth who have experienced challenges with housing, finances and familial support, like himself.


And after graduation, the same teachers who helped him get to his first campus visit say they won’t miss a chance to return to campus with him in June as he begins his college journey for Hampton’s summer program, followed by National Guard Reserve training.


“What I love about Nyree is that he doesn’t play the victim. He uses his experiences as strength,” Tunstall said. “His approach is: this is what I’ve been through, I will overcome it and then I will give back. We are doing whatever we can to help him get there.”