#1  
Old 06-12-2019, 02:23 PM
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Alternative School Graduation


The last of our kids, C, graduated from high school a few days ago. This fellow was sort of a stray we had taken in, Summer of 2016. He lasted almost a year at the local high school but by that time he’d had 16 years of dodgy upbringing (OK, survival). All I’ll say about that is both of his parents are alive, and neither was in the picture when he came our way. Within months of starting his sophomore year he was failing his academic classes and hadn’t made any friends in the principal’s office. By the end of the year he’d been suspended for having too much weed in his school locker, and the principal wasn’t keen on having him around for too much longer. Not because of the academics or the substance infractions, but because C just had that no-account demeanor about him that only 16 years of survival can give a kid. Not rude, but also no time for the snotty authoritarian principle of a school full of spoiled preppies. “Go to the principle’s office” = “Take the rest of the day off”, that sort of thing. On C’s suggestion & research, we helped enroll him in an alternative high school. He did well there, and just recently graduated with high honors. Yay him! And thanks for putting up with the backstory, because it has little to do with the rest of the post.

This was the 4th high school graduation I’ve attended in 5 years, but the first from an alternative school. The routine I’d gotten used to involved a goofy valedictorian speech from a normal kid or two, 350-400 seniors walking across a stage when they were called, taking what they were given, and then having a seat. Good dogs, most with no clue what life is really about. This wasn’t like that. There were about 40 students seated on a stage, along with the usual detachment of administrators from the district, and the school staff (about 30 of them in all). While we were waiting for the show to get under way, I was looking at the soon-to-be-graduates. A lot of them I knew from when they were in cub scouts with my oldest son, a couple of them I knew because they had bullied my oldest son until 4th grade launched him on his own adventures. Always wondered what had become of all of them, and here they were, preparing to graduate from alt HS. Interestingly, that was all water under the bridge for me. Instead, as I looked at these kids—all with some combination of colored hair, piercings, tattoos, beards—it dawned on me that every one of them had a story. Not the sorts of stories my other, more fortunate, kids kept in their skulls as they drifted across a stage as part of a faceless mass of peers. But real stories. The sorts of stories I, a 52 year old suburban white guy, am happy to not know firsthand. Two of the students spoke before the diplomas got handed out.

The first was a lanky, bearded young man who spoke almost entirely without emotion (he chuckled once, at himself). He explained how he was so excited to start high school because he was sure the kids who’d bullied him all the way to the close of 8th grade would finally lose him in the crowd and he could start his social life over. Didn’t work out that way. They found him right away and had him suicidal in short order. His last memory of that school was trying to stop a fight between his brother and another guy who’d perched himself on brother’s chest while raining knuckles onto his face. Little brother, (the speaker) used perhaps excessive force to end the pitched battle and was arrested at the scene and charged with felony assault. Evidently he’d had enough and aimed to stop the bullying for good right then and there. Unsurprisingly, his ‘victim’ wasn’t even scolded. Soon after, he was enrolled in alt school where that sort of bullshit isn’t tolerated, and he’s graduating at the top of his class. Saved his life.

Second was a young lady who poetically detailed the sort of grief you go through when five of your friends commit suicide (not as a group either) in their freshman year, she named them, and the disillusionment you experience when the school admin doesn’t mention it and takes no visible steps to prevent it. And goes so far as to tell you your best friend wasn’t a suicide, she was just an accidental hanging. She explained pictures of despair I was all too familiar with, and which no child should know. She’d been expelled from the high school for excessive absences, tardiness, and overall unacceptable academic performance. She had nothing to offer the school, so the school decided she was excess. She got herself enrolled in the alt school where she got the academic and psychological help she needed. She’s college bound. She knew the public school system for what it is, and she knew the alt school for what it is, and there was no question where her loyalties, and bitterness, lay.

As each student walked to get their diploma, they stopped at the microphone and delivered a brief thank you speech. It was sad, but not always surprising, that the people thanked included the school staff, a few random adults & peers, and only sometimes a parent. C included The Missus and me, and his ex-step-dad (who was in attendance and who had given him a last name if no DNA). No mention of mom, who actually had managed to attend. She was in tears afterward and let C know how disappointed she was to have been left out. He stayed calm and heard her out. And then in his slow, thoughtful drawl he corrected her. “I listed off every helpful thing you ever did for me.” My jaw hit the floor, she left the room in tears, wailing. He just looked at me and said, “Was I wrong?” I knew he wasn’t. I was just so stunned with how unlike the wrecked boy who had come to us three years ago he had become. Regular school would have finished him before he finished it.
  #2  
Old 06-14-2019, 04:48 PM
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Those kids probably overcame more than most of us ever would in our lifetimes, just to get to where they are now. It's a world those of us who weren't raised that way often know little or nothing about.

I've told the story here before about the alt-school in my old town, which didn't take attendance or do lesson plans, and the people I knew who worked there (and they all had their own reasons for doing so) all believed in compulsory sterilization as a condition of admission. I told that story to a woman I know who teaches at a regular HS here, and she said that the alt-schools here have stricter rules than the regular schools, in part so kids won't WANT to go there.
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Old 06-14-2019, 05:59 PM
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Inigo, that was a very moving post you made. It sounds as if C is going to make it, between your family and the school.
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  #4  
Old 06-14-2019, 10:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nearwildheaven View Post
I've told the story here before about the alt-school in my old town, which didn't take attendance or do lesson plans, and the people I knew who worked there (and they all had their own reasons for doing so) all believed in compulsory sterilization as a condition of admission. I told that story to a woman I know who teaches at a regular HS here, and she said that the alt-schools here have stricter rules than the regular schools, in part so kids won't WANT to go there.
I think this is why I posted. I certainly had my expectations and at least this particular school and principal made a completely different environment. It was a strikingly human and humane place for the handful of people who just can't fit into the regular mill.
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  #5  
Old 06-15-2019, 03:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Inigo Montoya View Post
“I listed off every helpful thing you ever did for me.”
I'm very, very glad I read that at 10:22 and not in the wee hours, because the laughter I just let out could have woken the whole hotel.

Good for your kid May his future be long and happy.
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Old 06-15-2019, 07:19 AM
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One of those phrases that you hope is hyperbole but in so many cases isn't.
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