South Boston has its own meatballs. Not the kind that taste great with tomato sauce and pasta, but the kind any fan of the hit MTV reality show Jersey Shore would recognize as Deena and Snooki, two members of the cast.
“I’m Meatball 1 and she’s Meatball 2,” said 19-year-old Jussara Sequeira at Cultural Story Hour at the Old Colony Avenue Notre Dame Education Center late last week while pointing to classmate Neomi Nunez.
Sitting in their teachers’ office space munching on snacks after a ceremony in which both gave brief speeches about their lives before and after coming to Notre Dame Education Center, they reflected on their favorite parts of the event.
“It’s inspiring to get to know the other students,” said Sequeira, who is a part of the high school diploma program at Notre Dame Education Center. Nunez added that her favorite part is spending time with the other people in the program, mainly her history teacher, K. Toussaint Lacoste, case manager for the the center's High School Diploma Program.
Along with the High School Diploma Program, the Notre Dame center offers General Educational Development programs for adult students at the high school level and Distance Learning classes for students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages courses as part of its Alternative High School Programs branch.
Also offered at the school is the ESOL program, ranging from Level One to Level Four, the Citizenship Program and the Literacy Program, which includes Adult Basic Education (ABE), ABE One and ABE Two.
“One of the great things [about NDEC] is it’s such a mix of different cultures,” said Support Services Coordinator Bethany Vaughn, who assists students with “nonacademic issues that affect academic life.”
According to ESOL Program Coordinator Michele Moore, a majority of the ESOL students are Hispanic or Haitian, but the rest of the programs include students from as far as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Togo, ages 16 to 80.
When asked about her favorite part of the job, Vaughn answered, “When you resolve a problem they couldn’t resolve on their own or something that could have become a crisis. These students are grateful for any help we give them.”
The nonprofit organization was founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and has provided students of all levels the chance to learn English, continue their education and eventually move on to the college or working world.
Last week, the school held a job fair with visitors from Quincy College, Bunker Hill Community College, UPS and another local business to give students a chance to see where they would like to go after NDEC.
Out of 13 students graduating this year, 11 either have been accepted or applied to college, said HSDP Coordinator Donna Pomponio. She added that two students, who applied to eight and nine schools, respectively, were accepted to every school they applied to, one of which was Massachusetts College Art and Design.
“They are not being reached,” Pompino said of the students before they come to NDEC. “They’re smart and intelligent, but bored. We are catering to others.”
During the cultural reading, students shared stories about struggles, family members, their native countries and themselves. According to Pompino, students from 25 to 40 countries are representedin the various programs.
Elide Canario of Dorchester is one of Pompino and Lacoste’s students in the HSDP and is one of the students who spoke at the reading ceremony. After various attempts in the Boston Public School System, Canario has found a home at NDEC.
“I wish Boston Public Schools were just like this,” Canario said. “I’ll refer anyone here.”
After beginning her educational journey at a private school in Boston and getting involved in violence and drugs, Canario said she realized it was time for a change. She tried the public school system, but went through six different schools, including the Re-Engagement Center in Madison Park, before finding NDEC.
It was not until Canario met Case Manager Wilson Santos and had a serious talk about her future that she was able to a find a place to call home.
“There are ups and downs in life,” Canario said. “But you always get back up.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.