During high school, Emilie Morgan struggled with life on traditional high school campuses, and spent time in juvenile detention.
She tried finishing high school herself by taking online courses but found it difficult to stay motivated to learn that way. A friend referred her to the Riverside County Cal-SAFE program that provides community school options for pregnant and parenting teens, and she decided to give it a shot.
Emilie’s decision to enroll in Hemet Cal-SAFE was one that she had not expected to make. Coming into the program for the first time, she had low confidence in herself. With a baby son, Asiah, and a difficult home life, she had little time to spend on studying.
Emilie believed that receiving honesty about what she would have to do to succeed was the most helpful thing that her teacher, Dean Berry, did for her.
“Mr. Berry was really open, honest, and blunt. He would actually help me, rather than add little lies that I was doing better than I was,” said Emilie.
In the past, Emilie was bothered that other teachers only seemed focused on making sure she passed the class, rather than that she understood the material. They wouldn’t be up front about her weaknesses, allowing her to believe that she was making progress when she wasn’t. Emilie appreciated Mr. Berry’s transparency.
“He had a way of working that helped me be more goal-oriented,” said Emilie. “He would say, ‘This is the plan, and this is what will happen.’”
Having serious discussions about areas that needed improvement did not deter Emilie, as they were reinforced with positivity as well.
Before graduating on May 22, 2019, Emilie was honored as a Top Scholar award recipient and was recognized as a particularly inspirational student by her teacher, Mr. Berry, in the opening scene of the Riverside County Million Deliberate Acts of Kindness video.
On top of being a teacher, Mr. Berry acted like a counselor, talking with Emilie about other things on her mind. Mr. Berry’s wife, also a teacher, would also provide help and advice from her life experiences.
“I was living with my grandma at the time and I didn’t get along with her,” Emilie said. “Mr. Berry talked me through it, so I wasn’t always feeling down and thinking negatively.”
Over the course of her 18 months at Hemet Cal-SAFE, Emilie became a role model to other students coming into the program.
She served as a student aide, and helped with tech support. She became the student who was known for stepping up to take on projects around the classroom.
When she struggled to learn something, she would try a different approach. She appreciated that she could tailor her education to fit her personal needs. For example, instead of writing essays, she would make PowerPoints to demonstrate what she had learned.
Emilie’s progress and her determination to try harder was not lost on Mr. Berry.
“Emilie stood out to me because her growth to leadership was visible, and was always on an incline,” he said.
Emilie’s son, Asiah, is already learning things ahead of students his age—evidence of the impact of the Cal-SAFE Program, Mr. and Mrs. Berry wisdom, Emilie’s commitment to education, and the upward trajectory of a brighter future.