PAWCATUCK — By making a tough decision a year and a half ago, Jordan Jimenez created a map for his future that will take him places he had never imagined were possible — including high school graduation.
Halfway through his junior year, Jimenez, 18, joined the Stonington Academic Integrated Learning for Students program, known as SAILS, which allowed him to work during the day and take classes after school.
He said he did it because regular classes weren’t working for him.
“It’s a program that helps students who didn’t do too well in school, going down the wrong path, stuff like that,” said Jimenez, sitting in the Pawcatuck Fire Station on June 15. “It really helped me, and it’s more one-on-one with the teacher. It’s a smaller class and it’s a lot better than day school for me. It made it a lot easier for me to learn because in class I was just messing around, being the class clown.”
Part of the program included finding a day job and a mentor. That’s where Byron Stillman, assistant fire chief in Pawcatuck, came in.
Part of the deal included keeping his grades up, Stillman said.
“I met with Jordan and his mom and I explained that if he wanted to come here, he had to go to school and get good grades,” he said. “This is two years later, he’s got high honors in school, he goes to school every day and he’s graduating. He’s become a member here. He’s a pleasure to be around and he fits in well with the guys.”
Stillman said he knew Jimenez was going to make it through the program.
“I could tell by looking at him — smart kid, just needed a little guidance, which we all do at his age,” he said.
Jimenez recently enlisted with the U.S. Army and will begin boot camp in Fort Benning, Ga., on Aug. 7.
“I wanted to go to EB or Davis-Standard, but I was interested in the service and I was going to go Coast Guard, and I decided on the Army,” he said.
He said Japan was at the top of the list for international places he wanted to visit.
“I want some ramen noodles,” he laughed.
Domestically, he said he wanted to visit places with sunny weather.
“In the U.S., I picked California, Texas and Florida — warm places. I’m a warm person,” he said.
When Jimenez took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, he learned he could be an avionics mechanic.
“I did not think I was going to be able to fix helicopters and stuff like that,” he said.
He’s also going to take college courses, paid for by the Army.
“When you’re active duty, they pay for you to go to college, and after I get out I get the G.I. Bill,” he said.
After joining the SAILS program, Jimenez earned A-pluses and A’s, qualifying him for high honors at graduation.
“I knew I was smart, I just didn’t show it. I was too busy hanging out with friends,” he said.
Stillman said Jimenez’s high grades were a welcome surprise.
“In order to continue coming here, he had to prove to me he was going to get good grades,” Stillman said. “Average would have been all right with me, but now I’m so proud of him I couldn’t even say.”
Jimenez said a combination of the individualized academic program and a mentor who was watching out for him made all the difference.
“I think it was more the one-one-one with the teachers that helped me, and having Byron back me up and tell me to get good grades so that you can come around here,” he said. “It makes me realize you have to work to get to where you want to be and nothing’s handed to you. You have to put in the work to get to where you where you want to be.”
Going into the SAILS program involved some sacrifices, but Jimenez said it was worth it.
“It was a hard decision because I had to leave some friends in school. I wasn’t able to see my friends as much,” he said. “It’s a great program, it completely changed my life. If the SAILS program hadn’t been available, I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now.”
Jimenez said he would likely pay it forward when he gets older by mentoring young people like himself.
“Focus and work toward a goal,” was his advice to any student who is where he was two years ago.
“Go to school on time, do your work, don’t mess around and put in the hard work and you’ll get where you want to be,” he said.