Today was the first day of classes in schools across New York City and a promising new beginning for students, teachers, and JCCA staff at Liberation Diploma Plus High School. Located a few blocks away from the beach, in an old parochial school in Coney Island, Brooklyn, the brightly painted building stands out as a beacon of hope. Designed to guide “overage and undercredited” young adults on an accelerated Regents Diploma track, Liberation is JCCA’s newest program and our second transfer school. JCCA partners with the teachers and resources of the Department of Education to provide a second or third chance to students, who come in committed to succeed.

At the assembly, teachers greet old and new faces, with a mixture of gentle prodding, jokes, and motivational speeches. One teacher, known as Mr. P., tells the group, “I have a dream. You’re going to graduate. You’re going to have a great year. If there’s a trip, take that trip. If there’s an event, go to that event. Take every opportunity.” Ms. Gross, a history and economics teacher, reminds the young adults that she had missed them over the summer, and shares Malcolm X’s quote: ‘Stumbling is not falling.’ She continues: “Everyone in this room has at one point stumbled. But you will not fall unless you want to because there is so much support in this room.”

Liberation’s principal, April Leong, returns to the front to address the group. At once nurturing and serious, Ms. Leong talks to students on their level and does not hold back. “How many of you did not know your principal at your previous school?” She asks the room. “You will know me,” she says.

After reviewing the rules and procedures with the students, Ms. Leong reminds them of her dedication to their success. “This is a home. If your home hasn’t been the way you want it, this is going to be the home that you wanted. But it’s not easy. Days are going to be tough. We have believe that tomorrow you’re going to be better.” She introduces Program Director Cherise Littlejohn, who founded BDA and manages the JCCA side of both schools. A bit of school rivalry erupts when she mentions the other transfer school—Liberation is in the same athletic league, but it’s a moment of school spirit and the students rally together. “Let’s get it,” cheers Cherise. “Let’s do this.”

Wayne, a returning student, speaks highly of his experience at Liberation last year. He has moved around a lot, but this is home now. He jokes around with the security guard and Cherise. “He’s really thriving here,” she says fondly. “It’s been really great to watch.”

For more information about Liberation Diploma Plus, click here.