DENVER — Just a couple of years ago, Alex Mata wasn’t sure that high school was worth the effort.

“Four years of studying, hard work ... it’s tough,” Mata said. “My mom never had the opportunity to graduate high school, so I wasn’t sure I could do it.”

That changed when Mata signed up to intern at the Denver Public Schools (DPS) transportation services Hilltop Terminal, where DPS team members manage everything from bus fleet maintenance to coordinating the school system’s hundreds of daily routes.

Mata quickly learned that his teammates at Hilltop were more than casual co-workers.

“They taught me how to do everything that a diesel mechanic would do,” he said. “But even more so, when I was having trouble with my math homework, they would stop what they were doing to help me out.”

As the team’s relationship with Mata grew stronger, the Hilltop Terminal invited him back on for a second term in the summer following his first internship. Mata was elated. Even after his second internship ended, he still visited the Hilltop Terminal to meet with his friends.

Years later, as he approached his high school graduation from CEC Middle College of Denver, he invited his “work family” to see him graduate. But due to the timing of bus routes and critical daily maintenance tasks, most of Mata’s Hilltop colleagues were unable to attend his graduation.

“Alex is family,” said Ken Harris, fleet supervisor at DPS transportation. “Because of that, we wanted to surprise him.”

On a Friday afternoon, Mata arrived once again at Hilltop for what he thought was a surprise birthday party for one of his old co-workers.

Instead, it was a belated graduation party and barbecue for him. And not one of his old co-workers missed it.

The team presented Mata with a bright red tool case, filled with car repair and maintenance tools of his own.

“I just want to say thank you,” Mata said to the DPS team. “Without this, without you guys during my internship, I probably wouldn’t have graduated high school. I probably would’ve given up on it. You made sure that I didn’t.”

To watch a DPS video report about Mata and the transportation internship, go here.