At Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, achievement isn’t just in the name. Three young men have done something remarkable.
“It’s very rare,” said Attallah Sheppard, dean of College Services. “It’s never been done before so we were just celebrating that as a team this year.”
Going to college is a way of life at Achievement First, but it’s the one right down the street that’s got everyone buzzing. Jhon Escobar, Alex Guzhnay and Justin Champion were all accepted into Yale University.
“I was so excited, I just went right away to hug my family,” said Jhon Escobar. “I was yelling the whole time.”
“Beyond excited,” said Alex Guzhnay. “Honestly words can’t even describe the feeling that I had.”
Attallah Sheppard says they all worked together for this moment.
“It was really a collective and community effort to support them in their applications, but our school was super thrilled that all three of them got admitted,” said Sheppard.
She says Achievement First is strategic with their efforts to get kids into college. So far this year, students have been accepted into schools including Brandeis, Stamford, Franklin & Marshall, and Mt. Holyoke. Of the students, 85 percent are first-generation college students, making the Yale admissions even more special.
“We pride ourselves on creating those opportunities here for our students so that they can unlock their potential and compete with the best of them,” said Sheppard.
College pennants are posted around the school, and students start thinking about college as freshmen. By junior year, they begin targeting their applications.
“All that hard work ended up paying off and that’s something that’s priceless to me,” said Guzhnay.
His family is from Ecuador, and he says they were hit hard during the recession. He credits all of their sacrifices over the years, and says he learned from them how to persevere. And the road to Yale was familiar territory. His brother David is also an Achievement First and Yale grad.
“He was very excited just because the opportunity to have a brother also go to the same college that he went to,” said Guzhnay.
Escobar’s family is also from Ecuador and excited about his acceptance.
“It was a relief on my part because I know it was his dream school,” said his sister Kimberly, a sophomore at Achievement First.
“The feeling is like ‘I really did it,’” said Escobar. “All of that was not for nothing. All the time I spent studying, the sacrifices I made for myself that others wouldn’t, it really paid off.”
On a trip to Ecuador he saw amputees that he wanted to help, but says he couldn’t do anything. At Yale, he’s got a plan.
“I feel like the biomedical engineering, specifically focusing on prosthetics could really be a way I could help impact them,” said Escobar.
Guzhney says he was inspired after canvasing New Haven for local campaigns. Hopes to make a difference for others after graduation.
“In five years I can see myself as a legislator or politician, a public servant,” said Guzhnay.
All three have known each other since freshman year. Champion and Guzhnay have known each other since elementary school, and Guzhnay and Escobar are soccer captains at Achievement First. The weight of their success isn’t lost on them.
“After talking to some of my freshman friends and sophomore friends, I think being able to see three people our school get into Yale is very important to them,” said Guzhnay. “Being able to see someone who puts in so much effort – someone they know who puts in so much effort -- have all that work eventually pay off somehow. I think that’s something a lot of kids these days kind of need. A little bit of motivation, an example to follow.”
While Guzhnay and Escobar are excited about Yale, Champion says he is too. But he’s also waiting to hear back from Georgetown University before he makes a final decision.