On Thursday, the 28 students in our class of 2009 will be celebrating their graduation from High School. One of them will be an adult alternative 12 graduate who I have to confess I had my doubts about ever being around long enough to graduate. He was a young man few of us could figure out; he was loud and very often acted in inappropriate ways. His teachers quickly lost patience with him and he was a social misfit with his peers. He basically did not attend school from the time he was 16 until he was 19. When he returned to school, I wondered what the heck we were going to do with him because nothing we had tried worked. Fortunately though, the right teacher came along who saw a student who needed our help, who needed education, and who needed support.
She challenged staff to change the way we looked at him. His nickname, Spinner, which he had happily responded to, was quickly dropped and we began to use his proper name. We still saw some inappropriate things from him, but we also saw something else; his humanity fell into focus. We learned about a person with feelings and questions though it was sometimes difficult to understand what he was trying to say. We began to accept some of his quirks and we got down to the business of trying to work with him. And guess what? He proved to us that he could learn, that he could stay in a classroom, that he could do some algebra! He also proved to us that he could push some buttons still and his teacher was not afraid of telling him that he had crossed a line and it was time to go home.
Some will view the alternate status as a negative no doubt, but he has grown more over the last three years than most I've known. I also saw him commit one of the greatest acts of kindness I've ever seen from a student. We had a literacy carnival in late May and he attended. He happily went around playing the various games we had set up winning tickets to buy books. When he got to my station, Yahtzee, he quickly won 12 tickets. Well he immediately turned to a little girl who was watching and who had run out of money and tickets and gave them to her saying, "Go get yourself a good book!" With that he left my station and left me convinced that he was graduate material.
Now that his time with us is coming to an end, I feel some sadness and a lot of concern. What will happen to a young man going into an adult world that does not always tolerate differences in people? What kind of future is in store for him? Ours is a small town where unemployment hovers over 60% and it is a town with huge addiction issues. He is going out into that reality and we are holding our breath. I hope he finds his way; he's earned it.