July 2018 Alumni Spotlight: Ava Zechiel

Welcome to the Next Step Alumni Spotlight! Every month throughout the school year we highlight a Next Step Alumni to check in and see how they are doing and what they’ve been up to since graduating from Next Step PCS.

For this month, we caught up with Ava Zechiel. 


Q. Where were you born? How did you hear about The Next Step PCS?

A. I was born in VA and grew up in DC my whole life.  I heard about Next step through my parents when I needed to find a way to finish school and a program that worked for me.  

Q. What attracted you to The Next Step PCS and how was your experience?

A. Next Step was a good fit.  My experience was great because TNS has a lot of culture, community and acceptance.

Q. In what language did you pass the GED?

A. English.

Q. Did you ever feel frustrated during your time at The Next Step PCS?

A. I don't think I ever got too frustrated with studying.  The only thing was being young, having to wait some time to officially take the GED due to my age, and making sure I was ready and making the right decision for my life.  

Q. Who or what helped you pass the GED?

A. Everyone at Next Step helped, along with friends and family.

Q. Where did you enroll after graduating from TNS? Did you graduate? If so, what degree did you earn?

A. I enrolled at UDC Community College to get an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Studies.  I graduated in May 2018. will be attending Hollins University in the fall. I will be pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.  

Q. What is the best part of your being enrolled at your postsecondary school?

A. The best part of my postsecondary experience has been finding people that are interested in some of the same things as myself.

Q. Did you receive any scholarships or financial aid assistance? If not, do you plan on applying to scholarships or financial aid?

A. I got the Mundo scholarship from The Next Step. Also, I was a part of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at UDC Community College, and was awarded some scholarships for the fall at Hollins University.

Q. What are you up to now?

A. This summer I will be working, travelling, and getting ready to live on campus at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

Q. What are your future professional goals?

A. I don't quite know what I want to do with my communications degree I know I want to do something related to writing or photography.  A career where I can be creative is what I have in mind.

Q. What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working or in school?

A. I like to take photos, write, and watch Youtube videos.

Q. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

A. I would say one of my biggest accomplishments is getting through community college with good grades and GPA at a young age. I graduated with my GED at 16 years old.  

Q. Any shoutouts and if so, who?

A. My family and friends for being so supportive, as well as my mentor over at UDC-CC, Robyn Ellis. At Next Step, I would like to shout out Ms. Roxy for guiding/supporting me into my postsecondary placement and Mr. Burnette because he helped me with gaining confidence in my math skills.  

Q. What is your favorite quote or life motto?

A. Let it be.

Q. What advice would you give to current students at The Next Step PCS?

A. Study hard, but also make sure you’re taking care of yourself and the people you care about.


June 2018 Staff Spotlight: Angel Castañer

Welcome to the Next Step Spotlight! Every month throughout the school year we highlight a Next Step Staff as well as alumni to share their experiences with education, and how both good and bad moments have guided them to success.

For this month’s Next Step Staff Spotlight, we interviewed GED teacher, Angel Castañer


Q: Where are you from? Chicago, Illinois.

Q. Did you encounter any challenges while attending high school/GED program? If so, can you describe what they were and how you overcame them? It has always been very difficult for me to focus, both in the short and long term. I often tell people that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up! Once I realized that my main impetus in life was helping people, that made my transition into education much easier.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue a post-secondary education? I wanted to gain a deeper theoretical understanding of what it means to be an effective teacher. The Master’s program I was a part of gave us a lot of hands-on experience and gave me a great preparation to becoming a teacher.

Q: Were you the first one in your family continue their education? I was not.

Q: Where did you continue your post-secondary education? What did you study? I studied for and received my BA in political science and journalism at GWU in 2009. In 2013 I got my Master’s in Secondary Education at GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development

Q. What was one of your biggest challenges while attending your post-secondary institution?Without a doubt, time management. While on the one hand, I love being independent, I always found it very hard to complete my work in a timely fashion. It took a lot of self-discipline and isolating myself from people and distractions to be able to get anything done.

Q. Who or what motivated you to continue and get through your postsecondary education? The knowledge that I would, one day very soon, make a big difference in people’s lives

Q: Why did you decide to work in the education field? My path into education was a little strange. I graduated with my degree in political science, and as such was looking for jobs in that field. The summer after graduation, I couldn’t find any work, so I began doing individual tutoring to earn a little money. After a while, I realized that I actually looked forward to doing my job, so I began to pursue teaching full time. Two years and some change later, and I had my Master’s in Education and was ready to teach!

Q: What is your current role at TNSPCS? I am one of the science teachers in the day school GED program, teaching both in Spanish and English.

Q: What advice would you give to students interested in continuing to post-secondary education? There will always be obstacles, but there is absolutely NO reason not to pursue higher education. Many students lose hope after hitting an obstacle, but it is important to understand that it is never too late - as I like to say, life often gets in the way of living. Stick to your goals, don’t be afraid of postponing or taking too long, and carry on.

Q: Who do you admire and why? I admire my wife for having the tenacity and persistence to solve difficult problems long after my patience has expired. I also admire my parents for having built a very comfortable life in this country after many years of hard work.

Q: What motivates you?
I am motivated not only for students to learn, but to inspire a LOVE and thirst for knowledge that many have not experienced until now. I remember a professor I had in college who taught Russian literature. I came in not knowing much about the subject, but the fact that he made his classes fun and dynamic made me come out with a renewed interest. I always try to emulate his example in class. Another thing that motivates me is the ripple effect that working with students causes. Even if I only am able to inspire one student to direct their life in a positive direction, that student will be able to go out, do great things, and touch the lives of others.


Mental Health Awareness

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month and Mobility Month, the special events committee has created a list of tips that can be used to aid and support well-being. 

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10 Mental Health Tips

#1 Have a self-care arsenal - Gather a collection of those objects and actions that bring you good vibes.  Use them when things get stressful.

#2 Work your strengths - Do something you're good at to build self-confidence.  Then, tackle a tougher task. 

#3 Track gratitude and achievement with a journal. Include 3 things you were grateful for and 3 things you were able to accomplish each day.

#4 Think of something in your life you want to improve, and figure out what you can do to take a step in the right direction. 

"You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. 

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

#5 Experiment with a new recipe, write a poem, paint or try a Pinterest project. Creative expression and overall well-being are linked.

#6 Go off the grid. Leave your smart phone at home for a day and disconnect from constant emails, alerts, and other interruptions. Spend time doing something fun with someone face-to-face.

#7 Spend some time with a furry friend. Time with animals lowers the stress hormone - cortisol, and boosts oxytocin - which stimulates feelings of happiness. If you don’t have a pet, hang out with a friend who does or volunteer at a shelter.

#8 Show some love to someone in your life. Close, quality relationships are key for a happy, healthy life. Or, be your own someone! Look yourself in the mirror, and tell You why YOU appreciate YOU!  Make it a habit.

#9 Dance!  Dance!  Dance!  Dancing reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and increases endorphins (the body's "feel-good" chemicals).

#10 Feeling stressed? Smile. It may not always be the easiest thing to do, but smiling can help to lower your heart rate and calm you down.


For more information please visit the following websites:




TNS Food Pantry

Ever wonder what 'wrap-around services' mean? 

Here at The Next Step, we envision a world in which all youth receive an excellent education and the support they need to realize their full potential as human beings and contributing members of society.

That means that we strive for all of our students receive the support that they need to realize their full potential. 

This is why The Next Step PCS is happy to announce the creation of our on-site food pantry. The food pantry was started to alleviate hunger issues in our school community. Initially, The Next Step PCS started distributing bags of food monthly. In November 2017, we distributed 75 bags of food to our students and families. In December 2017, we distributed 100 bags of food. The need for food was so great that the school decided to create an on-site food pantry where students can have accessibility to nutritional food items at all times of the month.

The Next Step PCS partners with Community Schools to stock our food pantry monthly. Items from the food pantry are unlimited. Students have a various selection of foods they can choose from such as dairy, fruit, pasta, and canned goods.  During the winter holiday months, The Next Step PCS has also been able to secure perishable foods such as turkeys, ham, and eggs through partnerships with other organizations.

Good food fuels strong minds and bodies!

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Want to make a donation to our food pantry? 

Click on this link to donate through PayPal