GARLAND, Texas — There is a principal with a contagious outlook on life in North Texas. Garland ISD has a unique high school called Memorial Pathway Academy. It is a non-traditional school, and the principal has traveled a unique path.

What You Need To Know

  • When Josh Tovar was in high school, he skipped class and drank

  • Tovar is now the principal of a Texas school and helps students avoid the same mistakes he made

  • Half of Tovar’s students are learners who are new to the United States, and many do not speak English

  • The other half of Tovar’s students did not succeed in a traditional high school setting

Memorial Pathway Academy is a non-traditional school northeast of Dallas. Half of the students are newcomers to the United States, and some do not speak English. The other half of the students did not succeed in a traditional school. That is why the principal, Josh Tovar, said it is his mission to help them succeed at his school.

“I always make sure they understand what we’re teaching them at their level, at their pace,” Tovar said.

Many of his students are learners who are new to the U.S., like Heiner Mazo, who just moved from Columbia six months ago.

“I want a better life. That’s the reason why I’m here,” Mazo said, in Spanish. “Mr. Tovar always gives us advice, he helps us a lot, and he has even given us classes himself.”

Mazo is 20 and wants to be a history teacher, but he did not know any U.S. or Texas history. Tovar has been teaching him on the side.

“So I already told him, ‘You will be the history teacher when I retire,’” Tovar said about Mazo.

Other students have different reasons a traditional school did not work for them, such as behavioral or attendance issues.

“At an actual traditional campus, these are the kids that were not successful at the comprehensive schools,” Tovar explained. “So we have two major programs in one campus.”

Alyssa Enriquez and her father fell on hard times her junior year, and she could not graduate.

“This school honestly gave me a second chance,” Enriquez said. “In one year, when I was 19, we were losing our home, losing our car, everything. I had two car wrecks. I moved in with my grandma. My dad moved in with his mother. Everything just kept getting worse and worse.”

Her brother also passed away last year, which sent her to a dark place.

“I was detached for a minute because of everything that was going on,” Enriquez said, through tears.

Enriquez re-enrolled at MPA at 20 years old, and got her diploma two weeks ago. Enriquez said she would not have graduated without Tovar’s support.

“He’s not the type of principal to be like, ‘You’re messing up. You need to do this, this and this.’ He’s like, ‘Are you okay? What’s going on? What can we do to fix this behavior?’ As opposed to, ‘Oh you’re in trouble,’” she said.

Tovar celebrates teachers and students alike. He mails birthday and thank you cards multiple times a month. Every time a student completes a course or gets perfect attendance, they put a star on the bulletin board. Treats and uplifting messages are delivered to teachers on “Marvelous Mondays” and “Sweet Bite Fridays.“ His Twitter feed is full of success stories from the school.

“Every Wednesday, we have our students of the week where the teachers nominate them,” Tovar said. “Kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

He cares this much, because he was this exact type of student in high school.

“I was a struggling student like the kids I have here. I was born in another country. I had to learn English like half of my population,” Tovar said. “I was a troubled kid in high school who did a lot of ditching, a lot of drinking in high school, which puts me on this side of the school. So I am literally this school. I was this kid in high school.”

So Tovar has made it his personal mission to give his students the chance to be better.

“Caring about people is crucial when you sit in the chair that we sit in,” Tovar said about principals across Texas.