Yankee Hill graduate inspires others with determination, perseverance

Look up the word “perseverance” in any edition of the dictionary, and the picture of Yankee Hill Education Center graduate Amari will be placed right beside it.
Amari has overcome several difficult circumstances to become a role model for fellow students. She has earned all of her school credits and graduated earlier this spring from the program. She said teachers and staff members at Yankee Hill inspired her to reach her goals.
“Graduating was pretty hard for me, because I kept having some issues,” Amari said. “I was supposed to graduate in 2020, and here it is in 2024. This school has helped me a lot. It’s been really good here.”

Sarah Freitag has known Amari since 2018 and has watched her blossom in recent years. Freitag, who is now a teacher team leader at Yankee Hill, helped Amari in reading classes when she first met her. She said she has been impressed with the resolve and dedication she has witnessed.
“Amari stuck with it,” Freitag said. “She has a stick-with-it attitude. I’ve worked with Amari for six years and even when life was throwing her down, she came back and she still continued to achieve her ultimate goal of graduating high school. I’m super proud of her for that.”

Yankee Hill Principal Amanda Shonka said Amari represents the positive traits of a Yankee Hill Yeti. Students in grades 9-12 follow a structured calendar to address their individual needs. The school’s mission is to provide a safe, supportive and educational environment that encourages them to achieve their best.
“When Amari came to Yankee Hill, she was disengaged and angry at the world,” Shonka said. “She struggled to trust the staff at Yankee Hill to support and believe her education is important. Over time, she built meaningful relationships with staff. She is a role model for other students, she obtained employment and came to the after-school program consistently to meet graduation requirements.”
Amari began attending Lincoln Public Schools in 2013 and arrived at Yankee Hill in 2017. She spent time in several group homes growing up and experienced conflict in some of her relationships. She left Yankee Hill for a time before realizing she wanted to walk on a more positive path in life.
“She was determined,” Freitag said. “There was definitely a change in Amari. A very positive change, a very mature change. She realized that these are my goals in life, and I need to do A, B and C in order to reach those goals.”

Amari was 65 credits short of graduating when she returned to school. She wanted to earn her diploma before she turned 21, and she began a credit recovery program with Freitag to cross the finish line. She also added after-school classes to her schedule.
Amari spent many late nights on assignments for math, language arts, history and science classes. Her effort paid off when she wrote her name on the school’s list of graduates.
“I’m pretty proud, because I was behind by quite a bit,” Amari said. “I only had until this year to get stuff done, and I wanted to get things done.”
“We really just did one class at a time,” Freitag said. “We looked at what she had left and what she wanted to focus on, and then we’d focus on that, get it done and move to the next class. She hung in there. She would take work home sometimes, and she’d complete it and bring it back, and if she had questions, we’d work through it.”
Amari said Shannon Huertas has also been a source of support during the past year. Huertas has guided Amari in her role as school therapist.
“She’s been somebody I can talk to,” Amari said. “She’s calmed me down, and she’s helped find me resources that I’ve needed. It’s been really good.”
Amari has also used her talent in calligraphy to thrive in life. She is able to draw words and phrases with intricate and artistic fonts and colors. She has left notes such as “You’re important” in Freitag’s classroom to encourage others.
“I find peace in it,” Amari said. “It calms me down. I’ve been in a lot of out-of-home placements, and a lot of them teach you things to calm yourself down, and that’s something I picked up on with calligraphy.”

Amari became a certified phlebotomist when she was 16 and now works at Southeast Cancer Center in Lincoln. She collects blood from patients and prepares the samples for testing. She also helps elderly patients through a local senior-care service. She is taking additional courses to continue her medical career.
“I love it,” Amari said. “It feels good.”
Freitag said the words “successful,” “motivational” and “encouraging” can all be found in the dictionary of Amari’s life.
“I think her story is very inspiring to other students,” Freitag said. “Not everybody is willing to come back after they’ve been gone.”

Congratulations, Amari!
We wish you the best in your future endeavors.
We are thankful our educators could help you Launch at LPS!

Looking for LPS graduation information? Check out our graduation page at https://home.lps.org/graduation/ to get the details on celebrating your favorite high school grad.
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Published: May 3, 2024, Updated: May 7, 2024

Yankee Hill Education Center graduate Amari smiles next to a motivational wall of photos and quotes in a classroom. Amari has overcome several difficult circumstances with determination and perseverance. She earned her diploma this spring and is now working in the medical field.