Every Student Succeeding: My Guardian Angel

Rejection was the only thing Isaac Daugherity knew when he was little. In fact, if you ask Isaac to describe his childhood, he’ll give you a blunt answer.

“Hell, I guess,” Isaac said. “It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t pretty.”

Abused and neglected, Isaac ran away at the age of 9. He never knew his father and his mother was not always a present parent. For two years, Isaac was homeless, living in Sanger Park.

“It was just the thought of me wanting to get out of that place,” Isaac said. “Me wanting to get out of that situation. I didn’t sleep that much. You’d think you sleep all day but I didn’t sleep that much. I was always worrying about what’s behind me or are the cops going to pull me over and take me back to that house?”

As a means of survival, Isaac affiliated himself with the Fresno Bulldogs, one of the most dangerous gangs in the country. He was introduced to a life of drugs and violence. But for Isaac, the drugs masked the pain of abuse and abandonment.

“I had to adapt to my environment to survive through it,” Isaac said. “Things happened here in this little town of Sanger. A lot of things happen. I hung around people. I did what I did. But that was just to make myself live. If I didn’t do that, I would have died.”

But Isaac also had two other reasons to keep fighting: his brother, Jordan, and his sister, Layla.

“When I was alone at night, they would be who I thought about,” Isaac said. “Just the thought of them being at the house and knowing I could go and tell them ‘Hi,’ that’s what kept me pushing.”

When Isaac was 11, police caught him sleeping in Sanger Park and placed him in a group home. He returned to school until he was expelled from Washington Academic Middle School for stealing cell phones and computers. As a result of the expulsion, he was sent to Phoenix Secondary, a community day school for at-risk students in Fresno Unified School District.

“It’s kind of a hybrid in kids can choose once their expulsion is up, if they don’t feel comfortable going back to a regular school, they can stay and graduate,” former Phoenix Secondary Principal Brian Radtke said. “And we have kids who come and leave and then choose to come back.”

As for Isaac, he arrived at Phoenix Secondary as a self-described “hothead.”

“You could see that there was something there,” Phoenix Secondary principal Mark McAleenan said. “There was potential there. But there was anger that was simmering right under the surface. And still was distrusting of the environment and of the staff. Wasn’t sure how things were going to play out with our program.”

Isaac had no reason to trust anyone and every reason not to.

“Every other school, every other adult figure that has had to work with me because it’s their job, they get a taste of me. They work with Isaac for a day, a week. They learn who Isaac is. And they just stop.”

But Isaac quickly learned Brian Radtke was not every other adult figure.

“Mr. Radtke, he kept me,” Isaac said. “He didn’t give up on me. He always smiled. He always had a smile on his face. ‘What’s up Isaac?’ Always made me feel happy about Isaac. Nobody has made me feel happy about myself before.”

Radtke says building that trust took some time, but as a result, a strong bond formed between student and principal.

“Our kids come to us a black hole of emotional need,” Radtke said. “And to step into that every day and give 100%. And we’re not talking about hug a thug here. There are a lot of things that went into building trust. And when that trust was established, Isaac just flowered. He just blossomed and really began to attach himself to us.”

Isaac will graduate from Phoenix Secondary in December and will attend Reedley College next fall, where he plans to major in welding.

“Everybody always told me, ‘You’re going to drop out,’” Isaac said. “’You ain’t going to make it nowhere doing the way you’re doing now. You ain’t going to go to college. You’re not going to do this. You’re not going to do that.’ But I’m here now. I’m going to college.”

Isaac Daugherity was once destined to fail, until one man gave him the one thing he’s been looking for his entire life: love.

“He didn’t give up on me,” Isaac said of Radtke. “Everybody else gave up on me. Nobody else really took the time to understand why I was the way I was. They thought I just wanted to be like that. Mr. Radtke, he took the time. He took the time to get to know me. To understand my background of why I am the way I am. He took the time for that.”

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