MILWAUKEE — Changes are happening at Milwaukee's North Division High School and students feel it.
"I want to be a psychologist," said Diamond Dickerson.
Diamond Dickerson is on track to graduate next year and she already has college courses under her belt.
"I'm just going to go straight into the Marines after high school and then after that just go to college," said Maleak Taylor.
Sophomore Maleak Taylor said he will be the first high school graduate in his family and he plans to finish in three years.
"When I first got into high school I didn't think I could do it," said Taylor.
Dickerson and Taylor credit much of their success to mentors like their principal Keith Carrington.
"These are my kids, these are my seniors so it's pretty emotional time when I see those graduate in May," said Keith Carrington.
Principal Carrington stepped into his role at North Division four years ago. He has worked for Milwaukee Public Schools for 23 years. He was principal at various schools for the last 11.
"This has probably been the biggest challenge in my educational journey so far, said Carrington. The reality is parents want to send their kids to North Division. The problem is there's a fear or there's this perception of fear about the neighborhood," said Carrington.
North Division is the only high school in Milwaukee's 53206 zip code, nationally known for its high rate of incarceration and poverty.
"Obviously you hear the statistics about 53206 and the economic plight of the area and that's why I try and tell parents you can be a part of this change," said Carrington.
Principal Carrington is leading by example.
"He's like a father figure to some of the kids in the building," said Taylor.
"He really cares about the students. He wants them to be successful in life," said Dickerson.
"I just try to remind them every single day that this zip code does not define you and you need to be able to advocate for what you need, said Carrington. Our enrollment is up, our attendance rate is up, our suspensions are down on the state report card. We're improving every single year," said Carrington.
Enrollment was at 335 last year with a suspension rate of 29%. This year, they're up to 375 students and a 12% suspension rate.
"Getting to know them beyond their GPA's, getting to know their families, getting to know their situations," said Carrington.
Carrington humbly admits this has been a joint effort with community partners and the district. North is trying to set students up for success by giving them more options.
"We have an academy in informational technology as well as the health sciences," said Maurice Turner.
The school was once known for its medical program and the district is trying to bring that reputation back. Right now this includes a dental assistant program. Maurice Turner with MPS said more opportunities are in the works.
"We thought it would be just kind of a good fit because the structure is already in place at North Division and so why not revitalize those spaces and those rooms and breathe life back into them and have it be kind of one of the focal points of this high school," said Turner.
President of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Patricia McManus, also a graduate from North Division, is helping revamp the health science classes at North. She ran the program at the school years ago.
"Health was always considered last instead of first and people might not even realize that and I thought their kids would be the best way to get the community more involved in understanding their health," said Patricia McManus.
She said what students learn at North moves beyond the classroom.
"To get students aware of health to have their families aware of health," said McManus.
Another North Division graduate, Vaynesia Newman-Kendrick, now works for the health department. She said offering medical programs in high school helps give students an edge in the real world.
"Being here in the '90s the medical specialty program was the center point for the school and to know that that's something that is coming back I think it is phenomenal," said Vaynesia Newman-Kendrick.
Alumni and current student alike have Blue Devil pride.
"I feel like North Division is a great place to go to school because it has so much to offer," said Dickerson.
"It's a lot that you can hear about the building, but the building is always going to be here. It's about what's inside of the building that really matters," said Taylor.