Hillhouse students heading into the future in Ivy halls and building sites

NEW HAVEN --  Hillhouse High School, which has seen its graduation rate increase from 55 percent to 80 percent over the last four school years, has students on the path to different futures.

Some New Haven students are taking part in a program that will teach them a construction trade, at the same time, three students are headed to Yale's ivy halls.

The future Yalies are excited.

"I was hoping something like this would happen," said Hillhouse senior Amber Green.

"It feels like all my hard work has paid off and I'm so happy," said another senior, Bryanna Moore

"I studied a lot," noted Coral Ortiz, with a smile.

These are incredible young women, who have fought stereotypes.

"I told people where I was thinking of going to as a freshman and they kind of were just like looking at me like 'you think you can get in there,'" said Ortiz. ​

Yale University, whose acceptance letters brought tears to these young ladies eyes, as did a video that accompanied the letter.

"They're singing bulldog, bulldog, bow wow wow and I was just like I had to cry," said Green.

Ortiz, who was accepted to four Ivy League schools, is a student member of both the New Haven and State's Board of Education.

"I had to sacrifice a lot of like social life like I couldn't just hang out with my friends every weekend," said Ortiz.

The most important advice to their peers? Believe in yourself.

"They have grown up with this perception that they are incapable of handling the rigorous course load and the extracurricular activities in the community service required to get into Yale," said Moore.

"It's even more profound because it's a community celebration," said John Tarka, an assistant principal at Hillhouse. "They're going, they're coming from Hillhouse and they're going to Yale. And then they have the whole world at their fingertips."

In athletics, Hillhouse is known as the Academics. And now, you can safely say, they're also beginning to build that reputation in the classroom.

Other students at Hillhouse are being given an opportunity to choose another career path.​

With the assistance of the Laborers International Union of America and the Local 455, students at Hillhouse High School can literally build a resume another way.

"When I heard about this program I was like, this is it," said Hillhouse senior Carlos Mejia. "It's a pre-apprentice program and we learn about like the basics."

For the first time in a neighborhood school in Connecticut, a construction craft laborers program is being offered.

"We did picnic tables, benches and stuff like that I learned how to mix cement," said Mejia, who said as recently as Christmas break, he had no idea what he was going to do after high school.

"College isn't meant for everybody," said Frank Ieraci, who instructs the students. "And, believe it or not, these guys make more than some people who end up graduating from college."

"Beside just like learning and reading books and stuff, I can also do other things that I would never think I could do," said Hillhouse junior Alexandra Garcia.

Hillhouse High School's new Career Pathways Technology Training Center has been transformative for many students.

"I've had other teachers come from other classroom saying Frank since you started your program they come to my, their attendance has gone up 50-60 percent," said Ieraci, who was a laborer for the Local 455 for 30 years.

Once the school year is over, the learning won't stop

"When they graduate from here, the seniors will go up to our eight week program in Pomfret," said Ieraci.

"I got hope," said a smiling Mejia.

After about 4,000 apprenticeship hours, which typically takes two to three years, these students will have a good paying careers the organizers say.