Harmony House Teen

Harmony House Teen Finds Fulfillment Now At Home And School

It wasn’t too long ago that Alberto Santiago and his mom were living in a run-down Newark house with no heat. Alberto also hated school and his mother went through a tug of war each morning just to get her son out of bed.

“It was a battle every day and he didn’t do well,” said his mother, Wendy Heslop.

Since moving into an apartment at New Community’s Harmony House transitional living facility and starting a new school last fall, the 13-year-old has done “a complete 360,” according to his mother.

“I can’t believe where he was then and where he is now,” she said. “He loves it here (at Harmony House) and we feel secure and stable. And he loves school and can’t wait to get up and get there every day.”

Alberto is a sixth-grader at Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark, a new school which opened its doors last fall. With a small population of just 80 students, the school for at-risk, inner city young men offers an extended day — classes run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and a Saturday program to engage students, as well as their families. The school, which occupies space in the Louise A. Spencer Elementary School building on Muhammad Ali Avenue, plans to add a grade each year up to the 12th grade.

“I’ve been really surprised. This is my best school,” Alberto said with a confident smile. “The teachers are so different.”

In addition to joining the school’s debate team, Alberto has also become involved in robotics. With the help of his robotics teacher, Jared Noll, he and some fellow students were able to build a Segway robot from a Lego kit called “Mindstorms.” They learned about areas like programming and overcame challenges like how to make the robot balance itself.

“The idea is to get them interested in the sciences,” explained Noll. “We showed them videos about how robots are applied in the real world, like in robotic surgery and in space.”

“I might be able to build robots to help society,” added Alberto, who would one day like to attend Harvard Law School and also study art and business.

Principal Vaughn Thompson said Alberto fits in well and has developed a strength about himself that doesn’t allow him to be a “follower.”

“I know he’ll be successful in whatever he does because of his effort and his ability to communicate,” he said. “I’m really proud of him.”