Given the proximity to McConnell Air Force Base, unconventional paths to graduation are nothing new at Derby High School.
Mariana Sosa’s path to earning her diploma from DHS would certainly qualify as unconventional, but the recent transfer was committed to hitting that milestone this year once she arrived in Derby.
Hitting some bumps
Born and raised in California, a sudden eviction in summer 2021 led her family to begin the path toward Derby right before the start of her senior year. With five days notice, they were evicted from their home in El Monte, Calif., and moved in with family in Mexico – an eye-opener for Sosa.
Prior to the move to Mexico, Sosa had been attending continuation school – an alternative means of seeking high school diplomas for students at risk of not graduating – for two years. Sosa was enrolled in the program following the death of one of her older sisters, which sent her into a bad depression.
“I couldn’t motivate myself to get out of bed, to do anything,” Sosa said.
Not making progress in continuation school while in California, upon moving to Mexico Sosa knew she had nothing else to do but try, attending the same alternative program remotely. Mexico presented different challenges, though, with limited internet access making it hard to work with teachers, contact them by email, etc.
Seeing how her mother was raised and all the sacrifices she made – not being allowed to finish school past the sixth grade – helped motivate Sosa to recommit to her education, for herself as well as her five younger siblings.
“We’ve been homeless about eight times, and I was so tired of suffering. I knew that the only way to better myself was through that education, and I knew that there wouldn’t be an end to this unless I put myself out there and worked for my family,” Sosa said.
Knowing her younger siblings would look up to her and seeing the negative impact not being in school had on them in Mexico only helped cement her graduation goals when the family relocated to Derby at the start of 2022.
Growing up in poverty with immigrant parents, Sosa wanted to make a positive change. Ultimately, Sosa and her family moved to Derby to be closer to her uncles, with the move proving to be the right fit to get her back on track.
“Derby has offered me great opportunities in realizing that I’m not a lost cause. I came here thinking that I wasted all of my potential and that I wasn’t ever going to be able to graduate,” Sosa said. “I know I’m still capable and there’s still time for me.”
Among the opportunities Derby has provided was the opportunity to go on a field trip – normally open just to sophomores and juniors – and hear from motivational speakers in the Kansas Hispanic community.
On top of that, Sosa noted all of the staff has been extremely encouraging as she worked to make up the 14 credits she was missing in her final semester.
“Here, I was very motivated and touched by just how much these teachers pay attention to their students,” Sosa said. “They remind me every day that there’s somebody on my team and they really want to see all of their students succeed, and that’s been very moving.”
Blazing a trail
Following graduation, Sosa noted she is looking to attend community college and study psychology to “give back” and be a voice for those needing help who may not know how to ask. While she did not get to pursue any psychology classes at DHS, she noted staff have helped put her on the right path to explore that career option.
Mostly though, Sosa hopes her graduation will inspire her younger siblings – four currently enrolled at DHS and one at Derby North Middle School. Knowing that she faltered while in continuation school, she hopes to set a positive example for her siblings and others, and is grateful for the chance a Derby High School education has given her.
“Before I came to Derby, I had no motivation for myself. I did not know what my future was going to be like, and now that I’ve reached this diploma I know I’m capable of anything. I know that it doesn’t matter where I come from, where I’ve lived and what I’ve seen because there’s still opportunities for me to succeed having this diploma,” Sosa said. “It’s just going to unlock so many doors that for so many years I thought had already closed on me.”