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The story behind the yard sign: a proud first

Grads with Grit: Charles Torrez

Northview — Drew Klopcic remembers when he met Charles Torrez. Klopcic was a football coach at Northview High, and Charles played for him his freshman and sophomore years.

“He was a great athlete, and he was determined,” Klopcic said. “I could see he was a leader.”

But midway through Charles’ sophomore year, his mother, Janai Torrez, was diagnosed with breast cancer. With just the two of them at home, there were both emotional and household adjustments. 

Charles Torrez’s profile on the ‘This Is Us’ wall at Northview Next

“It kind of just went downhill from there,” Charles said.

Then came the coronavirus and school shutdowns in March 2020. 

The weight of those challenges and other family issues meant Charles began to struggle in school, said Klopcic, who, along with assistant coach Aaron Ramos, had been getting periodic updates. Even getting to and from school, when it resumed in person, became more logistically difficult for Charles. 

In Charles’ junior year, counselors recommended that to best position himself to graduate on time, he switch to Northview Next, the district’s alternative high school.

Klopcic, director at Northview Next, said he was excited to again be in the same building as Charles.

“I knew he was a good kid, and that he just needed that family atmosphere of support that we could provide,” he said.

After more than a year of determined focus, Charles will graduate on May 25. He is the first in his family to earn a high school diploma.

2023 Northview graduate Charles Torrez is flanked by his supporters at Northview Next (pictured clockwise from Charles): English teacher Betsy VerWys, Trip Gallery, social studies teacher; Brian Hendricks, science and manufacturing instructor; Nick Smith, career coach; and Drew Klopcic, director

‘I Did It for Her’

Recalling the stress of getting across the high school finish line and the uncertainty of his mother’s early diagnosis brings those emotions right back. She is doing very well now, Charles said.

“I did it for her,” he said, brushing tears from his cheeks.

He admitted that being a first-generation high school graduate seemed like a lot of pressure, “but it’s a ticket, a golden ticket to a better life.”

Another golden ticket of sorts had already been handed to him by former Northview High English teacher Alex Hower, whose class he was in for just a semester his junior year. Hower introduced him to graphic novels and put him on the road to avid readership. 

“He actually found a book that interested me,” Charles said. “Before that, you wouldn’t have ever caught me reading.”

And he credited the staff at Northview Next for cheering him from the proverbial sidelines, as well as the project-based learning approach he said made all the difference. 

“The teachers are some of the best people I’ve met in my life,” Charles said. “They don’t care where you come from, they just want you to succeed. I think that’s the best thing anybody could have, just that encouragement, to not be doubted.”

Of Klopcic, he said, “He’s someone I look up to. I’ll always look at him as ‘Coach,’ even after graduating.”

Charles Torrez shows his class ring to Brian Hendricks, science and manufacturing instructor

Though Charles pointed to the supportive atmosphere at Northview Next as a bolster to getting to graduation, Klopcic insisted the accomplishment has been Charles’ doing.

“It’s on him,” Klopcic said. “He did what he needed to do. He found ways. When he was here he was determined. He didn’t waste time.”

At the time of this interview, Charles was working as a crew manager and trainer at a fast-food restaurant, and was looking for full-time work that was more closely aligned to his career goal of becoming an automotive mechanic. 

He said he plans to seek specialized certification in that field, and aspires to one day open his own repair business. Having recently earned his driver’s permit, he is now customizing a 1995 GMC Tahoe he bought.

“(Charles) can really do anything going forward,” Klopcic said. “He has a lot of opportunities now. He’s a cool kid, and he’s very proud of this. And we’re all very proud of him.”

Read more from Northview:
High school career center switches to project-based focus
New program aims to get students to graduation

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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